Written by Chwen Chwen Chen.

The establishment in 2012 of CCTV offices in Washington DC in US and in Nairobi in Kenya centred attention around China’s soft power and raised a number of questions: To what extent would Beijing exert control on the content of its foreign branches? How effective is China’s soft power push considering the massive investments poured into the expansion plan of the Chinese state run media outlets?

CCTV is an example of a state-owned firm that has become more and more market-oriented. Not only is this the case domestically, but with state guidance and support, it is actively pursuing an internationalization strategy. The emergence of Chinese media on the global stage can be viewed as a significant phase of Chinese firms’ internationalization. The ‘going global’ policy was formulated President Jiang Zemin in 1996 when he explicitly encouraged Chinese firms to ‘go out’. Jiang reiterated this idea in a speech the next year to the Fifteenth Party Congress, referring to the necessity of forming “large internationally competitive companies and enterprise groups through market forces and policy guidance”, a further step to the opening up of China to the world. [1] Since then, many Chinese companies have been strongly encouraged and financially supported by the government to establish an international presence.

Around the same time as the public debates about ‘going out’, China’s media system was undergoing a fundamental transformation by way of commercialization processes (市场化). Therefore, if we put it in the broader context of China’s emergence as a global actor, CCTV’s expansion is a natural development of Chinese firms’ internationalization strategies.

In entering the international cultural market, CCTV has faced challenges due to the fast development of information and communications technology (ICT), in addition to changing its own business model to the new operating environment. The digital transformation – which implies multi-platform content distribution and sources – is affecting production and distribution processes all over the world. In the digital age, a further step is to rely on social media as a marketing and organizational tool in order to sustain the hybrid strategies of media companies.[2] Embedding digital interactivity in its business model has been necessary for CCTV’s development.

CCTV’s web-based TV, CNTV (China Network Television, Zhongguo wangluo dianshitai), which took the place of the former Chinese national broadcaster’s official portal http://www.cctv.com launched in 1996, started to operate in December 2009. The CNTV website purports to “provide users with a globalized, multilingual and multi-terminal public webcast service platform. It offers interactive audiovisual services, integrating features of Internet-based operations with those of TV programming”. The aim is to provide an “interactive TV viewing experience” by “reproducing, reprocessing and fragmenting traditional TV programming resources, as well as producing and disseminating original Internet programs (produced by CNTV or netizens)”. This appears to be in contrast with the way CCTV embedded interactivity into its business model when playing on the global stage. On one hand, the presence of CCTV on the most used international (Western) social media has increased rapidly as the following snapshot illustrates:

Youtube: joined in 2009, CNTV News & Politics, CNTV Documentary, CNTV Comprehensive, CNTV Military and Agricultural Affairs as well as CCTV News, CCTV’s official English-language news channel. Additional Youtube channels include CCTV Africa with featured shows Talk Africa and Focus of Africa; and CCTV America with featured shows Biz Asia America, The Heat and CCTV Americas Now.
Facebook: CCTV – Media/News/Publishing opened in 2009; CCTV News; CCTV America and CCTV Africa – Broadcasting and Media Production opened in 2012; CCTV 中文- Broadcasting & Media Production, opened in 2013.
Google+: CCTV Africa with 2.4 million views and about 66,800 followers; CCTV News with 168 followers and about 223,000 views, and CCTV America with 152 followers and almost 15,300 views.
Twitter: CCTV News and CCTV America.
Tumblr: CCTV News and CCTV America on the Road
CCTV News App is now also available.

What these social media lack, so far, is an ‘online fan community’ [3] that shares, participates and engages with the network. Thus, the challenge to CCTV in the long term is its ability to create and promote content that can be shared socially and encourages exchanges of views among its users. This in turn will increase the value of CCTV as a television network. The creation of socially shareable content has to do with the creation of a narrative that is able to attract and to engage with users. The editors, in addition to generating high-quality content, must also generate network externalities.

Most media scholars share the view that CCTV will not be able to gain credibility, reputation and recognition with international audiences as long as the strict linkage with the Chinese government holds firm. The Chinese government is approaching soft power as it constructs high-speed rail or long-distance railways: by investing money and expecting to see development [4]. Soft power is not a top-down process: it is earned and it has to do with a bottom-up phenomenon.

Dr. Chen is a research fellow at the Institute for Economic Research, University of Lugano. She previously served as Executive Director at the China Media Observatory, University of Lugano. Image credit: CC by november-13/Flickr. 

Notes

[1] Jiang Zemin’s speech to the 15th Party Congress in 1997 quoted in Shambaugh, D. (2013), “China goes global. The partial power”, Oxford University Press, p. 175.
[2] Chen, C.C. & Colapinto, C. (2014), “The symbiotic relationship between traditional TV and the Internet. A comparative study of Chinese and Italian media companies”, in Faustino, P., Vukanovic, Z. and Wildman, S. (eds.), Emerging Trends in the Digital Media Business and Content Consumption, Media XXI, Lisbon. Forthcoming.
[3] Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York and London: New York University Press.
[4] Shambaugh, D. (2013), “China goes global. The partial power”, Oxford University Press, p. 267.