Zee TV has become the first Indian television channel to be granted landing rights in China, following a long six year wait and a concerted campaign to win over Chinese authorities long reluctant to open the door to Indian entertainment in this country.
China’s State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) gave the green light for Zee TV Asia Pacific to sign a landing agreement with the country’s only agent that is allowed to distribute foreign channels, CTV-STVP, on March 27, 2012.
Zee TV, which has already been selling to Chinese television channels its popular Mandarin-dubbed Indian dramas which have garnered wide following here, will begin by broadcasting in three star-plus hotels all over China, Angela Lin, the head of Zee TV in China, told The Hindu in an email interview.
“More and more Indian visitors will be able to choose hotels with Zee TV Asia Pacific Channel during their stay in China, to watch India-centric and rooted-in-Indian-culture Hindi programmes,” she said.
Zee TV Asia Pacific was launched in 2004, and is seen in 18 countries in the region including Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The channel’s content in China is expected to offer similar content, including prime-time comedy, dramas and Bollywood movies.
Zee TV’s arrival in China follows a more than six year wait. Chinese authorities initially refused landing rights saying that there was “no space” on the airwaves, according to officials.
That Zee TV is an Indian channel raised particular anxieties with SARFT, which was concerned that programmes with religious content, or even any references to the Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama who is in exile in India, may be broadcast.
India granting approval to the State-run China Central Television (CCTV) in January 2008 raised pressure on Chinese authorities to reopen Zee TV’s application, which had been lying ignored for more than a year and a half.
Zee TV’s application was helped by two developments in 2010, officials said. As both countries marked the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations that year, Indian officials raised the case, suggesting that the timing would send a positive signal. Zee TV also organised a Bollywood troupe to tour China, part of its effort to win over Chinese authorities.
The unexpected success of the 2009 film ‘3 Idiots’, directed by Rajkumar Hirani and starring Aamir Khan, also played a part, officials believe. The film took China by storm in 2010, becoming a hit among college students and a sensation on the Internet. A Chinese-dubbed version was also released in theaters nationwide in December 2011, one of the few Indian films shown publicly here since the 1970s when Indian cinema was widely popular before censorship restrictions barred screenings.
“The film entirely changed mindsets, of even Ministers and entire Ministries,” said one official. “It mesmerised people and convinced them that there was a lot in common between both countries, and that Indian entertainment did have a market in China”.