The ban on TV ads during dramas and films running longer than 45 minutes that China’s propaganda chiefs are imposing from January is aiming at the wrong target if the purpose is to bring the country’s increasingly money-grubbing media to heel. While TV advertising now accounts for three-fifths of China’s total advertising market, it is the rapid growth of digital media that is making China one of the fastest growing advertising markets in the world. MEC China, part of the WPP media agency empire, forecasts a 17% jump in ad expenditures to $63 billion next year, driven by companies trying to reach the online “Me Generation”.
For the past couple of years, the industry’s regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, has been snipping away at successful mass entertainment programs shown on the country’s proliferation of TV stations. It has restricted the time allowed for ads between and during programs, and leaned on broadcasters to show more culturally uplifting programming. As in many aspects of life, when it comes to cultural reform, a proxy for the desire to develop soft power around national cultural identity, the Party’s say-so is competing against more and more alternative voices. Hence the propaganda department’s attempts to guide market forces to impose the necessary drive for the promotion of the cultural values that it wants to see. However, though there will be some early disruption as TV ad campaigns for the new year have already been bought, the longer-term outcome is likely to be that money that would have gone to TV advertising will just move online rather than new culturally correct domestic programming will be created to keep it on TV, let alone fill the gaps created by its departure.