writes Andrew Green, Director of Strategic Media Resources at Zenith Media Asia It was a bit of a rushed affair, having been prompted by rumours that Taiwan would launch a service in October of that year. It was to have been a highlight of Taiwan's own National Day celebrations and would have marked a serious loss of face for the mainland.
With a little help from Russian technology, the Beijing Television Station ? later to be renamed China Central Television (CCTV) ? made its first broadcast at 19:00 on May 1, to an estimated 30 television receivers.
By 1978, not a lot had changed. Most of China's 30 provinces had their own services but few people could afford a set to watch them on. With the opening up of the country, the first television commercials began to appear that year.
By 1995, things really had got moving: officially, 980 television channels were broadcasting terrestrially across the country, with most people in urban areas now owning their own television sets and watching as avidly as anyone else in the world. An estimated US$900m was being spent by advertisers anxious to reach China's growing middle-class consumers with government subsidies to the medium reducing rapidly to zero in many cases.
It was clearly an economic success story. But it was also frustrating for most of us involved in planning how best to use the medium to reach the target audiences for our clients' goods and services. One of the main reasons for this ? and there were many ? was that it was difficult to get an accurate picture of who was watching what. This is a prerequisite in most advanced industrial countries in placing a value on the advertising breaks being bought.
When, as part of a Zenith Media task force, I toured China in 1995, I found no fewer than 108 different television ratings surveys on the market ? nine in Beijing alone. This meant that an advertiser could choose any one of nine usually different audience estimates on which to place his advertising placement decisions.
After much hard slogging, we finally managed to persuade the largest of the companies providing this data, the Central Viewer Survey & Consulting Centre (CVSC), to upgrade what had been a government information service into a modern, cutting edge commercial ratings system. CVSC had effectively been a government department with all the baggage this inevitably carried. The whole massive infrastructure covering 52 cities across all 30 provinces had to be re-engineered from the ground up.
Paying for knowledge
This upgrade presented two fundamental challenges. First, a company with international experience and credibility had to be found that could successfully find a way to work as partners with CVSC. There was a need to tackle some very tough issues. Fieldwork (choosing and managing a weekly sample of almost 50,000 viewers) needed improving, as did the areas of data processing and reporting the findings every week in a readable and usable format for media buying companies and television stations.
Second, it had to be viable financially. There was no consensus among media buyers as to how this should be done and no precedent of paying for such information amongst financial directors from both the buyer and the station sides.
After a year of negotiation, the Sofres Group from France agreed a joint venture with CVSC and a number of China's largest media buyers and television stations have finally been persuaded to part with as much as US$300,000 each to pay for the privilege of knowing how to spend their clients' money effectively.
It has been a case study in how to do business in China ? hard slog, a clear vision of what is required and a willingness to invest both money and technology. China, which will be the world's fifth largest advertising market by 2000, now has its own independent means of evaluating advertising investment.
Zenith Media Asia, telephone (852) 2582 3423, fax: (852) 2687 9831