Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chinese Puzzle as CRI expands again

China Radio International has been making a fuss in London together with its commercial radio distributor Spectrum Radio and a Chinese-owned TV production company called Propeller TV. They are considerably expanding local production, following an example set by Qatar.

I still find it fascinating to compare how government broadcasters launch things these days compared to thirty years ago.

Actually nothing has changed at all.

It's always a flag waving press conference where a button is pushed and something new is launched.

And "the press" gather round to capture what the Director General has to say. That's usually only the press somehow connected to the deal being struck. Then they have drinks and everyone goes home.

Last Monday June 16th 2014, Wang Gengnian the director general of China Radio International was in London on the same day as the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang kicked off a European visit to Britain and Greece.

China is busy investing in the infrastructure of both countries. But, when it comes to international broadcasting, it looks like Britain is where China is trying to focus its media influence in Europe.

CRI has had a deal with Spectrum Radio, a commercial radio operator that has been distributing the output from several foreign broadcasters since it started in 1990. I remember that World Radio Network brokered the original deal - and they hired Radio Luxembourg's 1440 kHz sender for many years. Great signal, but where was the audience? It quietly went away.

Spectrum have a mediumwave (AM) and DAB licence. They sell the airtime to anyone who wants to reach what they define as "ethnic" communities. That includes Polish Radio in Warsaw (who want to reach Poles living in London) and Sout al Khaleej, an Arabic radio station established by the director of Qatar Broadcasting and Television Corporation H.E. Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamir Al Thani. Spectrum Radio made the following promo video below which claims 100% awareness amongst "Arab Businesses".

They claim the medium-wave signal reaches 10 million people during the day. That doesn't mean that 10 million people are listening. Just that they could pick up Spectrum if their AM radio is tuned to 558 kHz.

And the coverage map for night-time stretches even wider. I suppose the reported coverage in the insert is a result of listener reception reports. Mind you, that's not a listenable signal on a simple portable radio.

They have six studios near the old Battersea Power Station.

And then there is the TV production company

Propeller TV was created in 2005 by a company connected with Grimsby Institute, with UK government investment. Those plans didn't work out, so in 2009 Propeller TV was bought by the Xiking Group based in Central London who changed it into a bi-lingual business, culture and entertainment channel. Propeller TV also quote coverage figures rather than actual viewing figures.

Propeller TV is broadcast on SKY 189 and reaches over 10 million viewers. Our free-to-air channel via Cablecom provides access to higher education television networks across the UK, covering an audience of 230,000 students. Our audience is affluent, well educated and includes business professionals, academics and university students.

The programming is wall to wall coverage of China, including language lessons. I find the programme China Insight to be especially fascinating, probably because of the topics that CCTV never covers.

What intrigues me is the announcement that CRI has now brokered a deal with Spectrum and Propeller-TV to produce 12 hours a day of UK produced English language programming to be aired on DAB in London, as well as ten hours of a day of CRI English programming via 558 kHz in London. CRI has also relaunched its UK website, and a bilingual trade magazine Opportunities China.

Remember this is all in addition to CCTV News which has its own 24 hour channel in the UK on Channel 511 (Sky Platform)

I'm just curious to find out whether anyone is really watching or listening. The transmission schedule looks light years behind what the Russians are up to with RT and all the social media platforms they manage. And I wonder if the BBC Chinese Service gets reciprocal access to the airwaves in China? (er no, they don't) What do you think?
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