The CCTV Spring Festival Gala, aired annually for the Lunar New Year holiday, streamed live to almost 170 countries and registered 1.23 billion viewers in 2020, according to gala broadcaster China Media group, up 59 million from 2019. The holiday in mainland China occurred around the time of the lockdown in Wuhan, and the Spring Festival Gala special saw a new segment added at the last minute to pay tribute to frontline workers in the battle against the pandemic. This marked the first major change within the broadcast industry in China.
Traditionally, people in China travel home early January for Lunar New Year celebrations, resuming work in mid-February. On Feb. 1, however, the China Alliance of Radio, Film and Television Production Committee and China Federation of Radio and Television Association ordered the industry to stop work and the government lockdown extended the traditional end date of Feb. 18 through February and March.
China has yet to resume work fully. The broadcast industry is at the point of resuming production, ready to film once the go-ahead is issued. Production studios are working on pre-filming preparations and production scheduling as well as working on scripts, artwork, costume design and location planning, especially for locations outside of China. The industry is expecting possible bottlenecks in filming, production equipment access, production studio bookings and talent scheduling conflicts, all with limited resources available to cope with a sudden pickup, opening up the potential for further financial difficulties.
Xiangshan Global Studios has started production cautiously by maintaining zero infections, filming in zero-infection locations and implementing strict isolation. Filming begins outdoors before moving into the studio. Xiangshan Global Studios opened its studio to tourists over the May Labor Day holidays in China with safety precautions in place.
Sports leagues, such as soccer and basketball, have rescheduled their seasons. The Chinese Super League 2020 season, due to kick off Feb. 22, now reportedly awaits confirmation for a start in June. Matches are to be broadcast live on CCTV with live streaming on PPTV, a video streaming platform. Meanwhile, the Chinese Basketball Association paused Jan. 24 and was set to resume April 15, but is now awaiting government approval for a June start as well, with matches telecast on CCTV5. Officials need to ensure special conditions are in place, in particular relating to the testing of staff and players. Moreover, the pandemic saw mainland China block noncitizens from entering, leaving many players in both leagues unable to return.
To feed home audiences during the pandemic, online video service iQIYI Inc. offered free access to more than 140 popular dramas and films. It also released new drama series "The Great Ruler" earlier than scheduled in addition to producing music video tributes to frontliners from more than 200 leading Chinese artists. For the people of Wuhan, iQIYI provided "The Thunder" and "The Eyas," two of their leading dramas, to Hubei TV and Wuhan TV and waived associated broadcasting fees.
Hunan Satellite TV moved to reschedule season eight of "Singer," a top-rated singing reality show, to Feb. 7 instead of premiering Jan. 31. The premiere broke the ratings records of previous season premieres, taking a 1.951 rating and 5.39% audience share, compared to a 0.806 rating and an audience share of 4.66% for the season 7 opening. With most TV stations showing dramas, competition from similar Live Variety shows was slim.
"Singer" moved production from a live studio recording to a live recording in the cloud for all of the season's episodes, with 12 episodes produced as of late April and broadcast on Hunan Satellite TV since Feb. 7.
Singers participated from recording studios with the same equipment, set up in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei as well as a sports stadium set up in Tokyo. Five-hundred online audience voters from all over mainland China, after signing nondisclosure agreements, took part in the online recording, replacing 500 studio audience members voting live. The event became the first in China to film a live entertainment program in the cloud, linking to multiple locations, in addition to all the online voters.
Hunan Satellite TV enlisted sister online video platform Mango TV to set up a separate channel for the 500 online live audience members and provided them with a polling feedback function to enable real-time voting for the singers. To prevent potential results leakage and fraud, each audience member received a unique ID shown live in the program with monitors on the lookout for any issues relating to the online audience.
Leveraging on the success of cloud recording "Singer," Hunan Satellite TV proceeded with the production of two other variety programs. "Daily Cloud Nine" and "Hey My Friend" are both are new programs, rated 0.7 and 0.8.
Historically, viewership peaks at the start of Lunar New Year Holidays that take place Jan. 24. Analyzing data from January to March, viewership changes through the pre-Lunar New Year holiday and the extended Lunar Holiday period — the time of the Wuhan lockdown and movement restrictions imposed for the rest of China.
TV channel data covers the top five satellite TV channels, all of which are general entertainment channels, and the top four national CCTV channels: CCTV News, CCTV 8, CCTV 4 and CCTV General Entertainment. From January to March, Shanghai Dragon Television and Beijing TV registered similar peak daily ratings, 0.588 and 0.584, respectively. Hunan Satellite TV followed closely and peaked at 0.537.
Unlike the satellite TV channels, which had consistently channel ratings in the top 20 channels, ratings for the CCTV channels only posted ratings in the top 20 channels for some days. CCTV News posted higher peak ratings at 0.835. The monthly average rating for the satellite TV channels and CCTV channels saw new peaks in viewership through February and March. Hunan Satellite TV's monthly average rating was up from 0.34 in January to 0.44 in February and 0.37 in March.
Drama and variety shows were the top-performing programs for Hunan Satellite TV, Shanghai Dragon TV and Beijing TV. The "Find Yourself" drama posted a rating of 2.968, while the "Daily Cloud Nine" variety show posted a rating of 1.193 on Hunan Satellite TV. On Shanghai Dragon TV, the "Joyful Comedians" variety show posted a rating of 1.908 while the "I Will Find You A Better Home" drama posted a rating of 1.908. Similarly, for Beijing TV, its "New World" drama posted a rating of 2.09 and variety show "Beijing Premiere" posted a rating of 1.008.