(English) 洛城中文媒体 Los Angeles: One of the Hottest Chinese TV Markets in the World

LogosIt comes as huge surprise to most observers that across the Pacific, far away from Greater China, a brutal media battle is underway with many of the world's largest Chinese media brands.  LA's Mandarin language television market is now one of the most competitive in the world with over a dozen brands competing for supremacy.  Unlike in the past where so-called "ethnic television" was considered to be on the fringe, in a market like LA's, ethnic media is dominant.  

The number TV network in the market is not ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox but the Spanish language Univision.  In a market where the majority of the population do not speak English as their first language, it is instructive to watch what happens in the ethnic market as a guide for the overall direction of local media across the US' top 20 major media markets. 

For the past thirty years, the pan-Asian language TV station KSCI TV LA 18 reigned supreme.  With its full-power broadcast license that affords it "must carry" status on every cable and satelitte network in the region along with a powerful over the air broadcast signal, LA 18 was the one to beat.  Over the past decade, though, KSCI's dominance in the marketplace waned as new, larger players saw opportunity in the million+ Chinese language viewers across the Greater Los Angeles region.  Taiwan's satellite channels ETTV and CTI were among the first major networks to plant their roots in Southern California, building production and sales operations for their nationally distributed channels.  Not long after, Hong Kong channels like TVB and Phoenix began to make their investment in the region following their competitors from Taiwan.  Unlike other major Chinese populations in the US like San Francisco and New York, Los Angeles was ideally suited for these Hong Kong and Taiwan networks.   A large and growing native-Chinese speaking labor pool made it far easier to staff along with the country's best broadcast infrastructure were two key criteria that made Southern California an ideal fit.  After establishing themselves on Dish Network and Directv along with building a solid DTH (Direct To Home) satellite platform, the Hong Kong/Taiwan nets turned their attention to building relationships with cable operators in the key Chinese areas.  Now, across the region, on both cable and satellite, between 8-10 various direct-from-Asia Chinese language networks are available to viewers.  The catch, and there's always a catch, is that both cable and satellite operators did not want to give up valuable bandwidth capacity for a relatively small niche market.  If you are at Time Warner and ESPN or MTV approches you to air a channel that will be relevant to three out of the six million TV homes in the market compared to a Chinese language station that appeals to a vastly smaller slice of the audience, the choice is rather clear.  So in response, the cable/sat networks all placed the Chinese channels on premium tiers that required additional monthly fees.

So long as Chinese language programming remained in the premium tier, KSCI was safe from significant competition.  Chinese consumers are famous for the tight spending and the prospect of adding $40-$70 to the monthly cable bill for extra premium channels was not very appealing for most viewers.  The easy access (again, the station's unique must-carry status gives the channel unrivaled distribution over its rivals) for viewers to watch the station gave it a huge advantage.  That advantage, though, came under new attack in the early 2000s when access to the public airwaves opened up through introduction of digital television.  For most American consumers, DTV was a non-event that occured on June 12, 2009.  I say it was a non-event since the majority of television viewers in this country receive their signal via cable and satellite services that were unaffected by the switch from analog to digital signals.  In immigrant communities across the country, over the air TV remains the preeminent distribution channel so this switch marked an important milestone.  In the years leading up to the June 12th DTV deadline, a number of stations in the LA market added digital transmission to their analog signals to take advantage of the growing number of consumers who could access these signals with new digital-ready tvs.  LA's Chinese language TV market then experienced an explosion of choice.   One after another, Chinese programmers rushed into the marketplace with a high quality television programming from the ROC, HK and PRC.  Now instead of just having one over the air channel, there are four.  In all, over a dozen Chinese language broadcasters now fight it out for a slice of the market.  

What makes this media battle so unique is that it is one of the only regions in the world where broadcasters from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China all make their content available on an equal footing.  In China, as is widely known, channel line-up and preference is given to state broadcasters.  In Hong Kon and Taiwan, there are formidible restrictions to what networks can air on certain platforms.  In the US, Southern California specifically, no such limitations exist.  While this bounty of choice is a blessing for the consumer, it will be interesting to see how many of these broadcasters can survive in a tight ad market with so much competition.

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