Chinese TV: App to the Future

In the Hutong
Back from CASBAA
1307 hrs. 

China: The New Mobile App Dragon,” by Peter Farago, Flurry Analytics

If one conclusion stands out after all of the panels at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasters’ Association of Asia (CASBAA) conference this week, it is that all of the broadcasters in the region see the challenge posed by New Media (even China Central Television [CCTV]), and none of them are quite sure what to do about it. As one CCTV executive told me, “we all acknowledge now that new media, the Internet, and mobile are the future, and that we want to be a part of that. But the question is ‘how’?

Steve Garton of Synovate suggested in a well-attended breakfast meeting that part of the answer lies with apps. In his presentation, Steve made the case to the region’s broadcasters that they needed to get better at using mobile apps to distribute their content on smartphones and tablets. Specifically, Steve noted that his company’s research around the world had proven that the best way to get in front of users would be for a broadcaster to have its app pre-installed on phones when sold.

It is not hard to foresee an edict from the Central Government requiring all carriers selling smart phones to include a CCTV app on those devices, and the numbers suggest that the Party needs to start looking at mobile as a means to ensure that it is still reaching China’s post-90s generations. According to Flurry Analytics, China began 2011 ranked 10th in the world in the number of global app “sessions” on smartphones and tablets. Growing 870% in the first 10 months of this year, China has passed every country but the US and now ranks second worldwide in app use. And one of the top 10 must used apps? Youku, which, by the way, comes pre-installed on many of China’s handsets and tablets.

I’d wager CCTV and the other broadcasters will not long permit Youku exclusive rights to that space, but all of the terrestrial and cable broadcasters face the same problem: how to attract the user to their apps when those users do not watch the stations? And if they collaborate with Youku and Tudou to distribute their content, what value do the broadcasters add? And what happens to their brands?

We cannot yet rule out the possibility that the broadcasters will move to create a Hulu-type service and pull their content off of the other sites. But that still leaves them with a large back of programming all in one place, and the brutal challenge of getting people to actually use the service. And for all of their production and engineering prowess, Chinese broadcasters are not the bastions of marketing that their U.S. counterparts have been.

For these reasons, the question of how broadcasters will deal with apps and mobile seems to point toward the same eventual solution as do the tricky politics and economics of the broader online video sector: eventual mergers between the broadcasters and the major online video sites.