By Anthony James, Staff Writer
If you were tuning in this past weekend you might have caught a very popular television program. No, I'm not referring to the NFC/AFC Championship games, or the Golden Globes, the Oscars, or any other American Award show. This yearly program tops any American Idol finale or final World Series pitch as it is watched all across the globe to celebrate the beginning of the Chinese Lunar Year. Hosted on the national news channel, CCTV, the spring gala this year hailed the beginning of the year of the Dragon and welcomed performances from many national superstars as well as western celebrities such as Warren Buffet. The program has become a yearly tradition in Chinese homes as television access has skyrocketed in the past 2 decades; in 2007, research found that over 800 million people watch the program worldwide.
For families in China and around the world the program is a long-running tradition heralding the beginning of the Spring Festival. Customary performances by comedians, singers, and dancers highlight the event as well as a world-record-breaking new tradition: an astounding 481,207 messages were posted on the twitter-like Weibo in the first minute after midnight. The access to media and, specifically, television has not always been as easy in the world's most populated country. With the growing reach of China's economic influence in the world, its media leaders are also looking to extend a Chinese perspective to a more American demographic.
China's premiere information and media network, CCTV, has enjoyed a success and unprecedented popularity in China in the past ten years. Contrasting from a decade earlier when there were only 19.5 television sets per hundred people, in 2002 it was reported that the estimated audience of CCTV was 1.15 billion. By 2005, 94.4 percent of the Chinese population had television access, a sharp growth compared to the fact that the initial initiative to reach all Chinese citizens through broadcasting first started in the sixties under Mao Zedong.
For China's media executives, their sights are not set on the milestones of the past but rather for opportunities in the future: influencing western audiences. While China-based stations such as CCTV News and CNC World are already being broadcast in the United States, their efforts have been hampered by cultural mistranslations and lack of advertising backing. The third try, Today China, will be another hope of China's government of propelling the dream of having a Chinese based station that could compete globally with CNN or Al Jezeera English. Initially airing in New York City, the digitally accessible station will air English and Chinese programs with subtitles with the hopes of wielding a greater cultural presence outside of China's borders.
Events like the Lunar Year Gala have proven that China's media can embed a rich and long standing among Chinese across the globe. With the past decade as example, China's state-run media companies are looking to expand their horizons to cultures and languages outside their own. With economic prosperity and entrance of western influences, President Hu Jintao hopes that a worldwide network will preserve Chinese ideology and culture. Whether their third attempt is successful remains to be seen.