The Full Story

As a result, he faced something of a programming challenge in finding enough interesting material to fill 24 hours of television per day. Like other broadcasters, CETV repeated blocks of programming but still needed at least six hours of fresh programming per day. Robert and Peggy made use of all their contacts around the world and managed to strike excellent deals on many programs. Soap operas from various nations documentaries, vintage movies and old Hong Kong programs formed some of the channel’s main content.

About a third of the content on CETV is original material – a Mandarin language version of Enjoy Yourself Tonight, for example, chat shows, variety shows and children’s programs. This original content is typically produced in Hong Kong using Mandarin speaking talent.

CETV produced over 1,300 hours of original programming, produced either in Hong Kong or co-produced with TV stations in China. CETV’s signal was carried free to air on the Apstar 1 satellite, along with CNN, ESPN, TNT and some Chinese educational channels. Apstar 1 gave CETV a reasonably big footprint around China and South East Asia. The potential reach was to more than 1.25 billion Mandarin speakers in China, Taiwan and Singapore.


Robert Chua, speech to Entertainment and Media in Asia conference, Los Angeles, US, 1998.
However, Apstar 1 was less than ideal for real distribution. In the satellite TV business, the best way to guarantee broad viewership is to be carried on the most popular satellite – the one most hotels and other viewing centres aim their receiving dishes at. In the case of Asia, that means AsiaSat 1, the satellite which carries Star TV and other popular channels. Mr Chua applied for space on AsiaSat but was turned down by Star TV(Mr. Rupert Murdoch owns), which had power of veto. CETV is now carried on the AsiaSat 3S satellite.

Checking the number of viewers for a satellite channel is notoriously difficult, but Mr Chua has thousands of letters which prove CETV has many Asian viewers, especially in China. Being free to air, anyone with a satellite dish aimed at Apstar can receive the CETV signal, but ownership of dishes in China is tightly controlled and foreign broadcast signals are technically illegal. In practical terms, most viewers in China would therefore pick up the signal through their cable operators.


The Chuas with China’s top actress of the 60’s 1998
By extrapolating from data collected through viewers’ letters, and through surveys carried out by CETV, Mr Chua estimates CETV could be seen in some 33 million households in China.

The lack of hard demographic data about its viewership is a problem which affects every foreign satellite TV channel beamed into China. For CETV, it was one reason advertising was difficult to sell in the early years.

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