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Traditional TV still plays crucial role in China

SHI XIAOQING | 2019-11-21
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
 
With the sustained development of science and technology and the rise of the internet in recent years, traditional TV has been dealt a heavy blow. Photo: FILE
 

 
With the sustained development of science and technology and the rise of the internet in recent years, traditional TV has been dealt a heavy blow. In this context, academics, experts and TV professionals are all concerned about the future of TV in China. 
 
 
Is TV dying? 
In his 1995 book Being Digital, American scholar Nicholas Negroponte, who is also a tech visionary and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, examined the evolution of the distribution of intelligence in traditional TV. He argued that as internet technology advances, discourse will gradually become decentralized in the digital age, instead of being centralized in the case of traditional media. 
 
Negroponte was the first to claim that TV is dying. Henry Blodget, CEO and editor-in-chief of the American financial and business news website Business Insider, held the same opinion, saying that the future of traditional TV is bleak. 
 
With the fragmentation of the audience’s time and their reception of mass information, Negroponte’s view has gained ground and a wealth of books and articles on the theory have sprung up in China. 
 
Wang Mingxuan was one of the first Chinese scholars to probe the possible demise of TV. In his book Dying TV, which was published by the Communication University of China Press in 2019, Wang pointed out that the internet has ended the necessity of such traditional media as TV and newspapers. 
 
In the article “Can Traditional Media Professionals Bridge the Widening Digital Divide?” published in South China Television Journal in the first issue of 2017, Wang drew the conclusion that traditional media has lost its basic audience based on data showing that advertising expenditure on TV media dropped by 4.9% in the first three quarters of 2015 and the number of Chinese netizens had exceeded 700 million the same year. 
 
In The Defense of TV, a 2007 book published by Gansu Culture Publishing House, the author Yun Longyou said that with the advent of the digital age, technology is changing our life while reshaping the landscape of the media industry. 
 
Looking back on the evolution of media from word of mouth to keeping records by tying knots, and from print to electronic mass media, the way of communication has been changing. In “Exploration of the TV Dying and Influence Theory in the New Media Age” in Editorial Friend in the eighth issue of 2014, the authors Hu Yanhui, a professor from the School of Literature and Journalism at Southwest Minzu University, and Shi Changshun, a professor of communication at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, said that communication mediums do not supplant each other linearly. They are in a complicated, correlated, integrated and interactive relationship. 
 
Compared with new media’s communication model featuring decentralization and two-way interaction, the absolute, one-way transmission of traditional TV is too simple and lacks customization. Audiences have turned from passive receivers into active accepters. They are receiving while sending messages. The evolution of media has fundamentally broken the centralized model of traditional mass communication. Hence the decline of TV and pessimism towards its future are justifiable. 
 
According to the theory of remedial medium proposed by American media theorist Paul Levinson, people are making rational choices during the evolution of media. Every successive medium remediates preceding ones. It is a remedial of certain inherently deficient functions. Even the emergence of new media is to better serve people and make technology more perfect. 
 
It can be observed that Levinson didn’t think TV will die. The basic features of TV remain unchanged. The only thing that has changed is from linear to non-linear transmission. 
 
“Don’t ever think that online variety shows will necessarily outshine TV programs. The linear broadcasting of TV is our advantage instead,” said Leng Song, an associate research fellow from the Institute of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in the article “Don’t Be Blindly Pessimistic about TV” that was published in China Television in the second issue of 2017. In Leng’s opinion, TV channels, however unpopular, will still gain tens of thousands of viewers across the nation at the prime time of 9 pm. In this regard, internet platforms are far behind. 
 
In the article “Prospects of TV” in Contemporary Television in the 12th issue of 2013, Yin Hong, a professor of communication at Tsinghua University, said that the emergence of a new medium is not necessarily followed by the disappearance of old ones. Most co-exist with new mediums. However, under the impact of new mediums, the status of traditional mediums will change, he said, adding that traditional mediums might have to reposition themselves to foster an edge in order to compete with new ones. In his view, the prevailing worry about TV in academia is actually an “early warning” for the future development of the traditional medium, but it won’t die. 
 
 
Chinese TV won’t die 
In China, the TV industry began to flourish in the 1980s. In the mid-to-late 1990s, the sector was increasingly market-based, as the content of TV programs was closely tied to the market and audience ratings. In other words, Chinese TV entered a product-oriented stage. 
 
Thereafter, growing numbers of variety shows were introduced from abroad. Chinese TV became more and more open and internationalized, ushering in a new era. However, the shows were seriously homogenized. TV stations and channels engaged in furious, even vicious, competition to win over more viewers. The originally desirable situation was destroyed. Those in the TV business were complacent and stuck to traditional models of program production. 
 
When new media like the internet quickly secured a viewership, TV remained invested in the internal competition of the traditional media sector, so it failed to withstand the heavy blow from new media platforms. 
 
With the maturing of science and technology in the age of media integration, traditional media represented by TV are highly likely to be pressured and elbowed out by capital if they don’t attempt to fuse with new media, expand resources and build multiparty platforms. 
 
In the changing world, the evolution of platforms and paths of communication on the internet is extremely fast and always taking fresh forms. Under such circumstances, the decline of TV is inevitable. But it is too early to conclude that TV is dying. 
 
It is true that TV has been enveloped in a haze, but it is not dying in the short term. As a medium with high social prestige and authority in China, it has been playing a vital role to a large extent. However fast technology innovates and the times develop, TV has been extraordinary in the country since its birth due to distinctive Chinese social characteristics and national conditions. 
Different from online media for its seriousness and authoritativeness, it has been performing the role of carrying forward core socialist values and passing on positive energy to enhance the national soft power and build a positive national image. 
 
Today the industry has started to reflect on its own problems. Many TV operators have caught the tide of creating original cultural shows, such as China in the Story, National Treasure and Readers produced by China Central Television (CCTV). 
 
In the meantime, although online media have given a boost to economic and cultural development, their disadvantages have presented themselves. For example, the lack of internet regulation has brought about vulgar content. And due to the medium’s quick evolution, it is difficult to ensure the quality of online shows. 
 
As part of traditional media, TV still plays a key role in Chinese society. Its significance shouldn’t be ignored, whether compared to other traditional media like radio and newspaper or new media like video websites and social network sites. Traditional media should beef up efforts to integrate with new media and seek challenges and breakthroughs from the competition to complement each other and achieve common development. TV professionals should take the initiative to learn and embrace a variety of clients like business portals, video websites, social network sites and search engines. 
 
The value of both online and traditional media is recognized by the public. In the new context, Chinese TV won’t die, but there is a tough road ahead. 
 
Shi Xiaoqing is from the Institute of Art at the Communication University of China. 
edited by CHEN MIRONG