It may come as a surprise but China has been funding BBC Factual Documentaries since 2008 and as a result has full rights over the footage and this material can be further used to be broadcast by the Chinese state run Broadcaster China Central Television9 (CCTV9), which is exactly what is scheduled for this year in China.
The relationship between the BBC and CCTV9 began in 2008 in the run up to the Beijing Olympics, which was being broadcast by the BBC, in the UK, also airing in the UK was a documentary on China, which you may recall was called ‘Wild China’.
There have been approximately four projects which have been invested in by CCTV9 for the commissioned BBC programmes such as ‘Africa’ which have seen the world renowned Sir David Attenborough front as presenter and narrator.
The Africa series will be sold to channels Chinese and non for rights to television airing and for any broadcast on a mobile devices and to video-on-demand services. The Independent newspaper reports some figures: “BBC executives expect it will be sold to more than 200 countries and are hopeful that it will exceed the popularity of Attenborough’s Planet Earth which was bought in 245 territories, a BBC record.”
The Chinese will be certain to purchase these rights too and the BBC has kept a permanent representative in Beijing (China) as the business partnership continues to grow with CCTV9 and future projects come to light. This does not however mean that the BBC has stopped working with other partners, in fact Sir Attenborough is heading to China for the BBC’s latest documentary series in 3D called the Rise of Animals (the title is still provisional and subject to a change), Atlantic Productions another partner of the BBC is producing the series. Other major investors include their long term partners of DISCOVERY and The National Geographic.
A good quote to put matters into perspective is from a BBC Spokesman who spoke of the relationship with other investors aside from CCTV9, “Co-production funding on big natural history, science and drama programmes is the way TV is made now. The BBC has a global sales team in all different markets and if you relate it (the partnership with China) with the work we do with other broadcasters around the world the amount is not that great.”
The names of the other three programmes that CCTV9 have invested in are ‘Wild China’ (presented by Bernard Hill), ‘Generation Earth’ (which shows how life has been transformed on the planet by humans) presented by Dallas Campbell (from Bang goes the Theory) and ‘The Wonders of Life’ presented by Brian Cox which looks at the relationship between life and physics. The Chinese State-run broadcaster also invested in BBC1 science series ‘Supersized Earth’, presented again by Dallas Campbell, and aired in November 2012 looking at humans and the making of the modern world.
These have all been large projects and are on the schedule to be broadcast in the UK and China, under the category of Factual/Documentary programming. The Director of the Factual department at BBC Worldwide, Mark Reynolds said of the partnership between the BBC and CCTV9 that they are “really quite an important partner in terms of factual programming”. Mark Reynolds also commented on future investment for the BBC from China, “We are going to talk to them about other projects coming up in the future because with the cost of these big productions we are always looking to bring in new partners where it’s the right editorial fit for them.”
CCTV-9 channel director Liu Wen said: “The BBC is world-renowned for its factual programming, and we’ve had great success (showing) titles such as Human Planet and Frozen Planet, so we’re very pleased to be partnering with them.” Recently CCTV (which has a 22 channel network including CCTV9) opened 60 new bureaus worldwide, in a race to be an influential presence in the world and are competing with the BBC to do this as well as Arabic, and Russian broadcasters.
Chinese cable channels Chunghwa and Wasu have signed digital deals with BBC Worldwide to air their shows, and BBC Worldwide have Chinese video-on-demand sites Qiyi and BesTV also airing their shows.
China’s economy is currently slowing and they have been viewed as a country built on steel (as they are number one in the world for producing steel), the problem now is they are producing so much of it that they do not know what to do with it and also do not have enough to pay workers, yet cannot let them go, due to China’s governmental laws. Africa is a developing Country and China is playing a massive role there in working to build up development in all areas, they are investing a lot of money there since the past 10 years; Africa has 54 countries and is one of the places where nature flourishes so openly and freely in good numbers.
China is being opportunistic and resourceful in how it continues to keep the country together whether it be through steel or broadcasting. China have often come under criticism for the way that they invest in Africa (providing loans to Countries within the Continent and then with this money outsourcing work to Chinese companies to help with the building of infrastructure within Africa).
Jo Sermon is also a Director of the Factual department at BBC Worldwide who commented on CCTV9’s approach to airing many documentary programmes on their channel; “They are pitching for the best of the world’s factual they really are astute what they take. They regularly get audiences of 90 million.”
Chinese influence in BBC’s Africa documentary is not looked at, it is solely focused on the Natural aspects of Africa and aims to be groundbreaking in showing Nature in Africa, Sir David Attenborough’s passion for Nature really shines through as usual, in this Documentary.
So the question that may be raised now: Is China being opportunistic in investing in world conservation Nature programmes, in particular BBC’s Africa for their own money making plans or are they showing a responsible approach to conserving the world through Documentary projects aiming to raise awareness? Whatever the answer, China is certainly being a competitor amongst competition and raising its profile globally through its bureaus.
Moving swiftly on to another partner of the BBC, Sir David Attenborough aged 86, has been in the news recently for referring to Humans as a Plague. Sir David Attenborough was speaking to the Radio Times (RT) Magazine and put the matter seriously to the RT, and his exact words were ““we are a plague on the Earth” he went on to say, “We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia – that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves – and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case.”
Sir David Attenborough stressed in the interview the importance of the environment, population numbers, and climate change. This of course is not something new, as Sir David has always promoted the need for preservation of the Earth and preventing Climate Change especially the issue of polar bears and ice-melt. He said of these issues “It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so.” He is also a patron of The Optimum Population Trust which is an organisation promoting its agenda of limiting population numbers and one of their campaigns is “stop at two” pleading to people to only have a maximum of two children.
Sir Attenborough got specific in explaining the problem that is posed by humans in their mass numbers, talking about the need for space and implied that there will not be enough space to grow food for humans, whom he referred to as being an “enormous horde”. Sir David offered a solution saying “Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.” His final point on the subject was a daunting yet serious one, “Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a co-ordinated view about the planet, it’s going to get worse and worse.”
The presenter hailed as a super star worldwide went on to comment on the future of his presenting style which involves being in shot with his animal subjects behind him and presenting to the camera, he said it is soon to be extinct. “I’m not sure there’s any need for a new Attenborough. The more you go on, the less you need people standing between you and the animal and the camera waving their arms about.”
Although this may be the case the style of his will always be remembered and he for one will not be forgotten by his fans of whom I am one and I would hope that the style is used from time to time too!