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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

U.S. media giant gains access to China

By Joe McDonald
Associated Press Writer

BEIJING — AOL Time Warner Inc. is taking Chinese state television into American homes in a deal announced yesterday that makes the company the first foreign broadcaster given direct access to Chinese audiences.

Communist authorities regard television as a key propaganda tool and carefully control it, though millions of Chinese watch television from abroad with illegal satellite dishes. Officials appeared to be willing to relax restrictions slightly in exchange for access to American audiences.

AOL Time Warner said broadcasts of its Chinese-language CETV channel would begin next year on cable systems in Guangdong province in southeastern China. Viewers in the area, one of the most prosperous in China, already watch television from Hong Kong, which is not covered by central government censorship.

CETV is based in Hong Kong, and is seen in Taiwan, Singapore and elsewhere in Asia. The channel, which AOL bought last year, features a mix of Chinese entertainment shows, cartoons, game shows, movies and sports. It also carries versions of some U.S. shows such as "Miami Vice" and the cartoon "Johnny Bravo" dubbed into Chinese.

In exchange, China Central Television's English-language Channel 9 (CCTV-9) will be carried by Time Warner cable systems in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston, said Tricia Primrose, a Time Warner spokeswoman.

China's huge audience and potential advertising market have attracted interest from other media companies, according to Rob Martin, a media analyst for Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group, a brokerage in Arlington, Va.

"There are any number of U.S. broadcasting entities who would like to enter that market, and it's all a question of how to overcome the various political hurdles," he said. "AOL seems to be in a good position to do that given its size."

AOL Time Warner's holdings include Time magazine, HBO, CNN, AOL and the Warner Bros. film and music studio. Although it relies heavily on the U.S. market, it has been stepping up its efforts to expand overseas.

The programming that American audiences will see on CCTV-9 resembles a slower, less adventurous version of U.S. educational television, with a mix of news, music and cooking shows, documentaries on nature and travel, Chinese lessons and sports.

Chinese officials hope broadcasting in the United States will change American attitudes about China. Yet CCTV-9 may have difficulty gaining U.S. viewers. While the channel's nature and travel documentaries are interesting, production quality is uneven and shows are staid compared with U.S. television.