2005年09月17日

电视圈内近期流传《超级女声》险遭封杀的消息,据说原因是该节目内容庸俗,导向出了问题,相关部门看节目播出方整改态度诚恳,才放了该节目一马。

木秀于林,风必摧之,这种看似冠冕堂皇的理由背后隐藏的是实实在在的利益关系,是利益格局博弈中真实的潜规则。

湖南卫视在《超级女声》播出时段出现收视高峰的同时,让国内电视所有频道收视曲线陷入低谷,其强势收视表现不仅让省台感到巨大压力,中央台也未能幸免。湖南卫视自然成了国内电视台的眼中钉、肉中刺,如鲠在喉,不“拔”不快。除掉它或抵抗它的办法有两个,一是起而效之,这多见于地方台。正如《玫瑰之约》、《快乐大本营》引来了大量模仿者一样,不少地方电视台看着《超级女声》一家通吃选秀节目市场,也要利益均沾,它们已有所动作,如安徽卫视与光线传媒合作推出的选秀活动已在各大城市进行。二是去相关部门奔走相告,借刀杀人,以正义之名,将其一棍子打死。看看不久前由中国广播电视协会播音主持委员会举办的抵制广播电视文艺娱乐节目低俗化的座谈会,你就知道这种分析所言不虚,在这场实际上由中央电视台组织的发难会,崔永元、朱军、李咏等央视名嘴悉数登场,痛陈了娱乐节目低俗化倾向。

要说庸俗甚而低俗、媚俗,娱乐节目这种形态是最容易与这些字眼沾上边的,《非常6+1》、《开心词典》、《莱卡我型我秀》这些节目多少会与它们发生些关系。问题的关键是,讨伐者的真实目的与立场是什么?出于社会良知的批评无疑是这个社会最需要的,也是应该得到节目主办方重视的,而出于自己一己私利的攻击、谩骂则是值得警惕的,这种满嘴仁义道德、一肚子男盗女娼的批评者总会找些光明正大的理由把自己的私利隐藏得很深,让人不易察觉。在公民意识薄弱、道德风尚日下的当今社会里,出于社会道德、良心、正义的批评越来越少,代表各种利益团体的攻击却越来越多。

在香港上市的北青传媒不久前发出赢利预警。不仅是《北京青年报》,全国平面媒体整体走势延续了2004年增速放缓的趋势,2005年前4个月广告增幅仅为5.77%,这个数字是历年中最低的,也低于同期GDP的增速。

平面媒体广告增速放缓的原因是什么?可分析的原因有:一是受宏观调控政策的影响,房地产广告投放下降影响了平面媒体、尤其是像《北京青年报》这样以房产广告为主要收入来源为报纸的收入;二是受国家相关主管部门严查非法医疗卫生广告的影响,导致了广告收入的降低;三是因为缺乏第三方数据认证,虚报发行量的事实增加了广告主投放广告的风险,在预算有限的前提下,广告预算自然会选择受众数量相对透明的电视、广播等媒体;四是大品牌客户青睐终端促销、新兴媒体而逐渐减少了传统媒体广告投放。美国一些大的广告客户在美国本土投放广告时已很少考虑传统媒体,大量投放流向了户外、互联网等新型媒体。宝洁中国公司已在中国宣布要加大新兴媒体的投放力度,逐渐减少传统媒体的投放数额。

在广告增速放缓、利润下降的条件下,国内平面媒体该如何决策呢?可以想像的解决办法有:一是裁员减薪,这是个方便的解决方案,但容易造成军心不稳、团队凝聚力下降,在现今报业竞争激烈的背景下并不是明智之举;二是压缩管理成本、环节,削减一些不必要的费用开支,转型时期的中国报业在这方面仍有改善余地;三是保持发行量不便的条件下缩版,这虽然会在一定程度上招致读者的不满,但在国内互联网越来越成熟、广播老树开新枝时,放弃报道做昨日新闻的简单报道,把内容做精、做深、做专,内容品质上的提升会将这种不满降到最低;四是直接压缩发行量,降低发行亏损,使盈亏曲线重新回到盈亏平衡点,这是最冒险的做法。发行量减少直接会导致广告传播效果的降低,容易让广告经营步入恶性循环轨道。更重要的是,在传统媒体读者老龄化、新一代年轻人基本没有读报习惯的条件下,这种做法的可能后果无异于慢性自杀。现在平面媒体要做的并不是如何有效控制发行量,而是如何提高发行量,尤其是增加报纸读者中年轻读者的比重。五是在不影响媒体品相的前提下,在印刷成本、用纸上做些改进,例如北京的《法制晚报》换用新纸张后,每年便能节省开支上千万元。六是利用纸质媒介的影响力,做媒介内容的深加工与跨平台传播,如手机报纸、手机短信、互联网等服务。尤其是互联网,美国《纽约时报》网站开通当年便实现赢利,国内报纸网站大多还是报纸内容的电子版,没有充分利用报纸自身已经积累的资源优势和互联网的特点,作信息的深加工、跟踪报道与个性化服务,赢利更无从谈起。在国内传媒人士不断拷问报纸是否还有未来的背景下,这种对新媒体的开发利用已成为报纸生死攸关的大问题。

Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with Beijing started on the wrong foot. The Australian-born mogul declared in 1993 that satellite-television networks, like the Hong Kong–based Star TV venture that he had purchased, would pose "an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere." Since then he has danced more carefully to Beijing’s tune. Soon after his provocative comment, China’s leaders insisted that he remove the BBC from Star TV’s menu of channels after it aired a program critical of Chairman Mao Zedong. Murdoch complied, and has gone further since. On his orders, News Corp.’s publishing arm, HarperCollins, dropped a book written by Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British Governor, in which Patten was critical of Beijing. In 1999 Murdoch even derided the Dalai Lama, Beijing’s longtime foe, as "a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes." News Corp. hired an American adviser last year to help China’s state-run TV station spruce up the propaganda on its English channel, which is carried on News Corp.’s DirecTV (as well as Time Warner cable systems).

All that goodwill, however, isn’t paying off. Murdoch was testing the legal boundaries in China, where foreign TV broadcasters cannot distribute their programming without government permission. Uniformed officers raided News Corp.’s Beijing offices in June and confiscated financial records and equipment. Calling the investigation a "big and serious case," the government is focusing on a company registered to News Corp. employees with regard to its role in leasing satellite-TV channels in China. And China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television terminated a deal that put News Corp. programming on a nationwide satellite channel based in the remote Qinghai province. Executives at Hong Kong’s Star TV, a subsidiary of News Corp., declined to comment.

China is under no obligation to allow foreign broadcasters to operate, and by tightening regulations across the board, President Hu Jintao has shown his wariness about opening China’s living rooms to Western culture. Multinational media companies are salivating over the $3.4 billion in TV advertising carried on networks in China last year, only 6% of which went to foreign firms, according to Vivek Couto, a Hong Kong–based media consultant. But government restrictions limit some News Corp. channels to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, luxury hotels, top government offices and approved apartment buildings. (Time Warner, owner of TIME, sold its controlling stake in a channel that also broadcast to Guangzhou in 2003.) Meanwhile, Beijing has left Disney in the cold by refusing to approve any more foreign satellite channels for even limited distribution. The government now requires pre-air approval for all foreign shows. Viacom last year announced a deal to produce children’s programming but hasn’t got approval yet. Now problems at News Corp., says a top Asia executive for a U.S. media company, "will spoil the soup for everyone."

News Corp.’s efforts to climb through loopholes in China were brazen, according to Jiang Hua, a former News Corp. distribution manager in China. Despite regulations forbidding direct sales, Jiang, who left the company 18 months ago after a disagreement with his boss, says he distributed News Corp. channels ranging from National Geographic (in which it has a stake in Asia) to an MTV-like music channel called Channel V. Two former News Corp. executives confirm Jiang’s story. Buyers were cable-TV networks from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea. "News Corp. called what I did gray-market distribution," he says, "but it wasn’t gray. It was black."

Jiang says payments were channeled through a shell company, Beijing Hotkey Internet, which received nearly $1.5 million a year in illicit payments from cable operators starting in 2002. Jiang and another former News Corp. employee told TIME that cable operators occasionally paid with briefcases of cash. News Corp.’s relationship with provincial broadcaster Qinghai Satellite Co. was similarly opaque. It involved a company, Runde Investments Corp., that had as an investor Ding Yucheng, the son of former hard-line Communist Party Propaganda Minister Ding Guangen. Runde Investments helped deliver News Corp.’s programming to Qinghai Satellite, which had not received the government’s approval to broadcast the shows, according to two former News Corp. employees with knowledge of the deal. Registration documents obtained by TIME show that Ding holds a 15% stake in Runde Investments.

Many foreign executives in China have hoped a political princeling might serve as a sort of insurance policy against regulators. "If you don’t push the rules," says a former News Corp. employee, "the government won’t respect you, and you won’t get anything done." But it may turn out that even in China’s freewheeling marketplace, bending the rules can put you in danger of a backlash.

Why eBay Must Win China?

The potential is enormous. But Alibaba’s deal with Yahoo! is a huge threat.

For all its reputation as the city of tomorrow, a place that will marry capitalism and cool as effortlessly as New York City or London, the city of Shanghai, truth be told, is not a particularly pleasant place during the summer. It’s a steambath, and when the occasional typhoon blows through, it will rain for three days nonstop. Many of the streets simply reek as garbage rots in the oppressive heat. Most people, if they have a choice, try to avoid Shanghai this time of year.

Meg Whitman would not be among those people–at least not this summer. If, in fact, the CEO of eBay, the world’s most famous and successful e-commerce company, had to write an essay this fall titled "How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” it might begin, "I didn’t have one. I went to Shanghai instead, trying to figure out the China market, because my company’s future may depend on it."

In February, Whitman said that for eBay, "market leadership in China will be a defining characteristic of leadership globally." Lots of big-time CEOS say things like that these days. Few follow it up by summering in Shanghai. The company cast Whitman’s stint in China as business as usual. "She goes there quite a bit [but] it’s not too extraordinary," says Matt Bannick, president of eBay’s international division. "You know, Meg travels a lot." Whitman, in an e-mail interview with TIME, says, "China is unique. It is growing rapidly, and it has a tremendous amount of potential, which is why we have made it a priority for the company."

Yet her Shanghai sojourn is not business as usual to anyone who is anyone in the booming e-commerce market in China. That includes the CEO of the local company giving eBay fits there, Yun (Jack) Ma of Alibaba-Taobao. On Aug. 8, the Alibaba-eBay competition ceased being a David vs. Goliath battle. Ma announced he was selling a 40% stake in his company to Yahoo! for $1 billion.

"We welcome her and the eBay team to China, and with this Yahoo! deal, we decided to give them a nice big welcome gift," Ma says puckishly. The move instantly transformed the pivotal fight for the e-commerce market in China into a high-profile showdown between two of the most successful companies of the Internet age. "The competition [for the China market] will be fierce, no doubt about it," says Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, who has been friends with Ma for years.

Ma says he and Yang started talking seriously about a deal in May. The key to it, Ma says, is that it gives Alibaba a strong position in four growth segments: business to business, consumer sales, online payments and now, with Yahoo!, search. "When we started Taobao, even our own chief technology officer said, ‘Jack, you are crazy. Don’t forget eBay.’ But we passed eBay in China in just two years." Whitman, for her part, could not have been surprised by Yahoo!’s entrance into China. "Given how quickly the Internet and e-commerce market is exploding in China, you would expect to see a number of players staking claims, which is exactly the case," she told TIME.

On Aug. 5, a search-engine outfit called Baidu, a.k.a. China’s Google, launched an IPO in the U.S. The stock was initially priced at $27–and closed at $122.54 after its first day of trading, a move that evoked nothing if not the infamous dotcom bubble of the 1990s. Except that no one believes China’s Internet boom is a bubble, given that there is so much potential growth.

The critical importance of eBay’s international growth, and of China’s piece of that growth, couldn’t be clearer. In just a decade, eBay has gone from America’s online flea market–purveyor of old 45s, Happy Days lunch boxes and Pez dispensers–to a global powerhouse, with footprints in no fewer than 32 countries. In fact, in the first quarter of 2005, the number of registered eBay users abroad exceeded that at home. According to John Yunker, president of Byte Level Research, "by 2006, and perhaps even by the last quarter of this year, non-U.S. revenue will surpass U.S. revenue." That’s because eBay’s revenue growth is slowing in the U.S. as the market matures (last year domestic revenues grew 34% to $1.89 billion) and because its international growth has been extraordinary. eBay’s gross-merchandise volume (GMV)–the total dollar value of the deals done on a given website–in Britain, France and Italy all increased 100% or more last year. Consider that in 2000, eBay’s international revenue totaled $29 million. By 2004, that figure was $1 billion.

For some time, it was simply a given that eBay would take China by storm as the online marketplace exploded, that it would be, as Bear Stearns analyst Robert Peck puts it, a "layup." In 1999, Shao Yibo, a Harvard Business School graduate, started EachNet, an e-commerce company, in China. Shao’s site openly aped eBay in style and content, effectively screaming "buy me" at the San Jose, Calif., giant. In 2002 eBay complied, paying $30 million for a third of the company and taking the rest for an additional $150 million the following year. This, arguably, was a hefty price for a start-up in a market in its infancy, but that was hardly the point. China is on its way to having 200 million Internet users. E-commerce is surging, and dotcom companies in general are back in favor. Wildly so.

But eBay’s dominance of the next great e-commerce market has turned out to be anything but a layup. Even before the massive capital infusion from Yahoo!, Alibaba-Taobao was making life unexpectedly difficult for Whitman & Co. Ma, 40, is a former English teacher turned Internet pioneer in China, where he started a company that provided basic information about Chinese industrial companies on the Web back in the mid-1990s. In 1999, he launched Alibaba, a business-to-business site that last year did about $70 million in sales and became profitable in 2002. A year later he started Taobao–"searching for treasure" in Mandarin–and he plainly reveled in playing David to Whitman’s Goliath. He gleefully tells of being shut out of eBay Live, the company’s annual gathering of members of its e-commerce "community,” because many sellers use Alibaba as a supplier. "We were going to eBay Live to make love, not war, and they canceled us," he says. "Can you believe that?"

Believe it. According to Alexa.com a market-research site tracking e-commerce, Taobao has surged in front of eBay by a variety of measurements. As of Aug. 1, Taobao was reaching 15,800 out of every 1 million Internet users, compared with just under 10,000 for eBay China. The number of page views per user–a measure of interest in the site–was 10.7 for Taobao vs. 7.4 for eBay. Most analysts agree that GMV is also a reasonable standard of performance. In the first quarter of this year, Taobao announced $120 million GMV vs. $90 million for eBay. In the second quarter, Taobao claimed $200 million, while eBay withheld its China data, claiming its competitors were distorting the numbers. "We didn’t distort anything," says Porter Erisman, Taobao’s vice president for corporate marketing. "We just beat them."

For eBay, it’s clear the game has only just begun. The company is sinking an additional $100 million into China this year–much of which is going to marketing. eBay ads are ubiquitous on buses in Shanghai and other metro areas, as are its television commercials and online ads as well as other, quirkier promotions. At many popular karaoke bars in Shanghai, for example, customers get an hour of singing and drinking for free if they register as eBay users. The brash Ma mocks these efforts, claiming he canceled his marketing budget in the first half of this year when he discovered how much eBay was spending, figuring that "their ads were just expanding the e-commerce pie for everybody."

That could turn out to be wishful thinking. The same Alexa.com data that put Taobao in front also show a distinct narrowing of the gap. The reach-per-million-users data, for example, have Taobao’s users down 6% over the past three months, while eBay’s are up 32%–arguably a sign that what Taobao’s Erisman sarcastically calls the "shock and awe" marketing campaign is having an effect.

eBay has rolled out its standard support system for big-time sellers in China. Education sessions are available once or twice a month at "eBay University," and what seller Wu Lin, who runs a full-time business selling clothing on the site, calls "excellent customer service" helps maintain customer loyalty. "If I have a question, they answer it," she says. eBay has finally introduced its secure online-payment system–PayPal. Alibaba-Taobao started its version, Alipay, earlier this year–something that has benefited it significantly in all overseas markets. Wu says she has "looked at Taobao, but I see no reason to leave eBay at this point."

Whitman knows Taobao doesn’t charge sellers to list items on its site, but that won’t be the case next year, as Ma acknowledges. eBay believes that will be a game changer, even if the alliance with Yahoo! makes Taobao’s pockets that much deeper. But a link with Yahoo! gives Ma the capital and technology he needs to battle eBay on its terms. "Meg made a big mistake coming here," he says with a smile. "I respect her for doing so, but the chief commander shouldn’t be at the front line with the troops. It just causes confusion and panic."

Nice try, Jack. Whitman is in China because she knows the cost of failure could be astronomical. In 1999, technical problems delayed eBay’s roll-out in Japan. That allowed Yahoo! to get a jump on the online shopping business in what has become the second largest e-commerce market in the world–a lead it has never relinquished. eBay pulled out of the market entirely in 2002, a move Whitman has rued ever since. She is not about to let the Japan debacle be repeated anywhere else, especially China; nor is it probable that she wants to spend another summer in stifling Shanghai. With reporting by Austin Ramzy/ Hong Kong and Regine Wosnitza/Berlin

Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with Beijing started on the wrong foot. The Australian-born mogul declared in 1993 that satellite-television networks, like the Hong Kong–based Star TV venture that he had purchased, would pose "an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere." Since then he has danced more carefully to Beijing’s tune. Soon after his provocative comment, China’s leaders insisted that he remove the BBC from Star TV’s menu of channels after it aired a program critical of Chairman Mao Zedong. Murdoch complied, and has gone further since. On his orders, News Corp.’s publishing arm, HarperCollins, dropped a book written by Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British Governor, in which Patten was critical of Beijing. In 1999 Murdoch even derided the Dalai Lama, Beijing’s longtime foe, as "a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes." News Corp. hired an American adviser last year to help China’s state-run TV station spruce up the propaganda on its English channel, which is carried on News Corp.’s DirecTV (as well as Time Warner cable systems).

All that goodwill, however, isn’t paying off. Murdoch was testing the legal boundaries in China, where foreign TV broadcasters cannot distribute their programming without government permission. Uniformed officers raided News Corp.’s Beijing offices in June and confiscated financial records and equipment. Calling the investigation a "big and serious case," the government is focusing on a company registered to News Corp. employees with regard to its role in leasing satellite-TV channels in China. And China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television terminated a deal that put News Corp. programming on a nationwide satellite channel based in the remote Qinghai province. Executives at Hong Kong’s Star TV, a subsidiary of News Corp., declined to comment.

China is under no obligation to allow foreign broadcasters to operate, and by tightening regulations across the board, President Hu Jintao has shown his wariness about opening China’s living rooms to Western culture. Multinational media companies are salivating over the $3.4 billion in TV advertising carried on networks in China last year, only 6% of which went to foreign firms, according to Vivek Couto, a Hong Kong–based media consultant. But government restrictions limit some News Corp. channels to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, luxury hotels, top government offices and approved apartment buildings. (Time Warner, owner of TIME, sold its controlling stake in a channel that also broadcast to Guangzhou in 2003.) Meanwhile, Beijing has left Disney in the cold by refusing to approve any more foreign satellite channels for even limited distribution. The government now requires pre-air approval for all foreign shows. Viacom last year announced a deal to produce children’s programming but hasn’t got approval yet. Now problems at News Corp., says a top Asia executive for a U.S. media company, "will spoil the soup for everyone."

News Corp.’s efforts to climb through loopholes in China were brazen, according to Jiang Hua, a former News Corp. distribution manager in China. Despite regulations forbidding direct sales, Jiang, who left the company 18 months ago after a disagreement with his boss, says he distributed News Corp. channels ranging from National Geographic (in which it has a stake in Asia) to an MTV-like music channel called Channel V. Two former News Corp. executives confirm Jiang’s story. Buyers were cable-TV networks from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea. "News Corp. called what I did gray-market distribution," he says, "but it wasn’t gray. It was black."

Jiang says payments were channeled through a shell company, Beijing Hotkey Internet, which received nearly $1.5 million a year in illicit payments from cable operators starting in 2002. Jiang and another former News Corp. employee told TIME that cable operators occasionally paid with briefcases of cash. News Corp.’s relationship with provincial broadcaster Qinghai Satellite Co. was similarly opaque. It involved a company, Runde Investments Corp., that had as an investor Ding Yucheng, the son of former hard-line Communist Party Propaganda Minister Ding Guangen. Runde Investments helped deliver News Corp.’s programming to Qinghai Satellite, which had not received the government’s approval to broadcast the shows, according to two former News Corp. employees with knowledge of the deal. Registration documents obtained by TIME show that Ding holds a 15% stake in Runde Investments.

Many foreign executives in China have hoped a political princeling might serve as a sort of insurance policy against regulators. "If you don’t push the rules," says a former News Corp. employee, "the government won’t respect you, and you won’t get anything done." But it may turn out that even in China’s freewheeling marketplace, bending the rules can put you in danger of a backlash.

50 coolest website from Time

Arts and Entertainment

www.aardman.com(Animation)
www.complete-review.com (Books)
opus1classical.com(Classical Music)
digitalgallery.nypl.org(Collections)
www.coudal.com/moom.php The Museum of Online Museums(Galleries)
www.orisinal.com(Games)
www.mcsweeneys.net(Humor)
www.zefrank.com(More Funny Stuff)
www.podcastbunker.com(Podcasting)
www.mercora.com(Radio)
www.tv.com(Television)

Blogs

www.overheardinnewyork.com(Eavesdropping)
www.jalopnik.com, www.autoblog.com (Cars)
gofugyourself.typepad.com (Celebrity Slams)
postsecret.blogspot.com (Confessional Art)
www.mocoloco.com (Design)
bayraider.tv (EBay Watch)
www.allensblog.typepad.com (Entrepreneurs)
www.chocolateandzucchini.com(Food)
www.boingboing.net (General Interest)
www.anonymouslawyer.blogspot.com (Humor)
www.dooce.com (Motherhood)
www.chromasia.com (Photography)
sbnation.com (Baseball)
www.lifehacker.com (Technology)
www.gridskipper.com (Travel)

Lifestyle, Health and Hobbies

www.flavorpill.net (Culture)
www.cancernutritioninfo.com (Cancer Care)
flickr.com (Digital Photography)
www.zoozoom.com (Fashion)
www.food411.com (Food)
digitalhome.cnet.com (Home Improvement)
www.livingto100.com (Longevity)
www.dogster.com (Pets)
www.ineighbors.org (Social Networking)

News and Information

www.blinkxtv.com (TV News)
www.idtheftcenter.org (Consumer Protection)
www.answers.com (General Reference)
english.ohmynews.com (Independent News)
www.indeed.com, www.simplyhired.com, www.workzoo.com (Jobs)
www.findlaw.com (Legal Matters)
www.publicagenda.org (Politics)
www.clusty.com (Web Search)

Shopping

sidestep.com (Travel Bookings)
www.craigslist.org (Classifieds)
www.shopzilla.com (Comparison Shopping)
www.woot.com (Deal of the Day)
www.mcphee.com (Kitsch)
www.zappos.com (Shoes)
www.complaints.com (When Things Go Wrong)