Single base for satellite transmissions sends out wrong signals in cost and control terms
A proposal to set up a centralised mainland platform for foreign satellite channels has received a cold reception from regional broadcasters.
ESPN/Star managing director Rik Dovey said it was 'unnecessary. I really don't understand the motivation behind this move'.
'The government says we must keep the original distribution platform, in which we've invested a huge amount of money for infrastructure, but at the same time the government now requires us to distribute separately on the central platform.'
There was a duplication of distribution networks and Mr Dovey worried the quality of transmission would be poor.
Last month China's broadcasting regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV, gave a policy briefing to foreign broadcasters about the proposed new central encryption platform.
Under this plan, broadcasters have to pay US$400,000 every year for each channel carried on the new platform - Sino Satellite.
The central government is gathering feedback from broadcasters before finalising the plan at the end of this month.
However, a few broadcasters have lobbied for the plan to be shelved, opposing any tightening of government control over broadcasting.
'Forget about the money. It really doesn't matter,' said Mr Dovey.
'There are still restrictions on the range of audience a network can reach. If we engaged in a business deal with the government and incurred additional costs, it would only be fair for it to allow us wider access.'
At present 21 foreign channels have restricted mainland broadcasting rights. They include familiar regional brands such as CNN, HBO, CNBC, ESPN, MTV, National Geographic, Star Movies International, BBC World, Discovery, Hallmark, NHK, and NOW. Few have devoted much effort or money to developing a presence in China because of the government's stringent controls which restrict them to selected audiences.
An ACNielsen Media International survey covering 345 television channels in 111 mainland cities, showed advertising expenditure on television stations was 32.76 billion yuan (about HK$30.7 billion) in the first half this year.
While China's airspace is attractive to regional broadcasters, their access has been highly limited.
'Of all Asian markets, India and China have the most potential for expansion,' the president of CNN International networks, Chris Cramer, said.
'But, in common with other regional broadcasters, our reach in the mainland market is still limited.'
Though most foreign channels are still in the red after years in China, they still share the same positive point of view in exploring the vast business opportunities there.
Some of them try to find another way around by distributing programming blocks, instead of full 24-hours channel, to mainland audiences.
'Channel distribution in the mainland is not a money-making business at the present,' said Ricky Ow Yoke-hong, vice-president of advertising sales and marketing for action movie channel AXN.
AXN entered China two years ago, and said 80 per cent of revenue came from subscriptions. Mr Ow said the network recently found an additional revenue stream from licensing programme blocks to other television operators.
Meanwhile, ESPN has already reached 47 million mainland homes in the form of programming services.
Executive director of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia, Simon Twiston Davies, was also hesitant about the new policy.
'It is hard to tell whether [the proposed policy] is good news or bad news for foreign broadcasters,' he said.
'There are financial and political implications to take into consideration.'