By Scott Kronick
The crystal ball has it all for 2004, the Year of the Monkey. Looking in you see a China characterized by exponential economic growth, development, challenges and reform. You zone in and you see an industry that reflects all of China's opportunities and challenges and you read the heading: The Media.
It's ironic. The media is traditionally the industry that serves as the interpreter and reporter of what is happening for all interested. Today, however, it has also become a barometer of market reform.
Since the mid-1980s, China's newspapers have grown from fewer than 200 to over 1,000, with page count increasing by around a factor of 10. The number of magazines has risen from a few hundred to more than 7,000 and TV stations from about 700 to around 3,000–not counting the myriad small cable networks. The new media landscape includes commercial radio, with live, call-in shows; outdoor advertising, now a billion-dollar business; and Internet news, chat and bulletin boards.
China's media landscape no longer consists of the staid newspapers and television broadcasts that once proudly carried the Party's message of increasing production and social stability to people throughout the country. In fact, people familiar with China's media would argue it represents a market increasingly representative of the west, where daily newspapers jostle for circulation and television networks imitate CNN and Fox.
What does the crystal ball have in store for 2004?
1. Consolidation – We expect market oriented media reform to take place at breakneck pace, and those media that have been subsidized by the State will be threatened.
In July of 2003, the Press and Publications Administration issued a notice that mandatory subscriptions of government or Party-sponsored newspapers or magazines should end. This new policy was interpreted as a new round of reform and is expected to put pressure on the plethora of media titles that exist only through mandated subscription. Consolidation will come and we'll see a paring down of media where those that are most respected will rise to the top.
2. Emergence of Local Media – We will see local media gaining in credibility and overtaking national titles as the key information source in many locales.
Over the past several years we have seen increasing pressure on national titles such as the Party-sponsored People's Daily, and to a lesser extent, CCTV. This pressure has come from more credible local titles and outlets — print, radio and television — that have a stronger following in their own territories and regions. In many cases, these media are taking on forms characteristic of their regions, and much of the reporting is local and delivered in their native dialects.
3. Growth of Professional Business Media – Investigative business media will flourish, and these media will serve as a catalyst for how the journalist profession evolves.
For decades Chinese journalism was captive to politics and standards were abysmally low. With market reform has come the development of a professional business media and an overall improvement in the standard of reporting. We have seen a growth in investigative reporting over the years, a higher quality magazine environment and innovative radio programming introduced.
CCTV's Economic Half Hour was ground-breaking in its sophistication and honest reporting in the mid-1990s, and the nightly Focus program has been widely praised by political leaders as well as viewers, for its muckraking. In print, the Guangdong Province in South China is playing a pioneering role in fostering business and economic media with nationwide influence. For instance, the Southern Weekend, the 21st Century World Herald, and the World Economic Observer are regarded as honest, bold, and thorough in their reports. The Chinese audience has developed more discernment as a result and is able to compare professional media outlets with those that have lower standards.
4. The Importance of the Internet – We will witness the continued growth, relevance and importance of the Internet, and with its omnipresence, it will be the channel where people turn to first for their news.
The Internet is having a major impact on the way state media report the news. Both local and foreign news organizations pay special attention to Chinese web sites, where they often find leads for stories. Breaking news can usually be found immediately on the Internet, and in several cases, this has pushed the state media to report news they would have previously ignored.
5. The Struggle of "Control" – We will see moves made that reflect the State's struggle with "control" and credibility, and this is where true challenge of market reform will be reflected.
The suppression and then opening up of the way in which the media has covered the SARS outbreak, the War in Iraq, the National People's Congress in 2003 and the changing of the leadership, collectively and independently have had great significance on the way media industry has developed in China. These events make it clearer than ever that China's media are no longer the monolithic Party mouthpiece they once were.
Faced with a multiplicity of media outlets, most of which are driven almost entirely by commercial considerations, the media regulators under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are adapting to change, but slowly, and as a result media regulation appears erratic. On one hand the State wants "control" the media, and on the other hand commercial considerations are forcing the industry to be more innovative, credible and representative of the people.
These five trends will only serve as the beginning as we enter the Year of the Monkey. For those interested in China reform, watch what takes place in the media. The crystal ball has it all.
About the author:
Scott is Managing Director of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, China, and a 16-year veteran of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide with public relations experience covering the United States, Taiwan and China markets. Scott oversees the overall Ogilvy PR operation in China, leading a team of 70 in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.Â Â Scott is one of the two founding members of Ogilvy PR in China and plays a pivotal role in the overall leadership and management of the firm.Â Â Scott also provides management oversight for the firmâ€™s acquired local public relations partner, H-Line Ogilvy Public Relations.Â Â Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and H-Line Ogilvy Public Relations combine to form the largest public relations firm in China. Scott joined Ogilvy PR/New York in 1987.Â Scott writes frequently on public relations and international business issues.Â In the US, he was a columnist for two newsletters covering international trade, and he contributed to a book entitled The Frugal Marketer, published by AMACOM.Â In Asia, his work has been published in the South China Morning Post, The Washington Post, MEDIA, PR Week, the China Daily and Taiwan's China News. He is a graduate of Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. You can visit his corporate site here www.ogilvypr.com.