For most people, celebrating the Lunar New Year means a good rest after a year of hard work and reuniting with families and relatives. But for those working for TV stations, it's one of the busiest times of the whole year.
Yet, with more and more TV channels launching Spring Festival evening galas - a must-watch program for millions of Chinese during the holiday - competition in the industry gets fiercer by the year. How to provide the most welcomed gala becomes the key question to solve. While staff at TV stations are using all their skills to make the best gala, a number of audiences wonder whether it's what they really want?
An international gala
With only a few days to go to the Chinese Lunar New Year Eve on February 9 this year, the Spring Festival evening galas of various TV stations have now become one of the biggest concerns of the Chinese audience, but as many netizens have discovered, this year's galas, from central to local, are all going international: China Central Television (CCTV) has invited pop diva Celine Dion; Shanghai-based Dragon TV has PSY, the most popular Korean figure of 2012; Anhui TV Station gets classical crossover star Sarah Brightman; and Hunan TV has the popular South Korean girl group f(x).
While some netizens are excited about such famous foreign figures coming to China, others wonder why the Spring Festival galas in China today have to depend on big-name foreign stars.
SinaWeibo user "Chuanmei Laowang," who is a veteran in the media industry, said that by inviting international stars, the TV stations hope to raise viewer ratings and attract more ads, which is completely a market-driven method. But as "the current TV stations in China… are not totally market oriented," such methods may not bring the desired audience ratings.
Also, he notes that the kind of stars that should be invited and the kind of culture they represent are questions that should be taken into consideration.
"A majority of the Spring Festival evening galas are for the grass-roots class, farmers for example. Will they be interested in such foreign stars? There are plenty of talent artists inside China. Why don't we bring them out?" he asked. And yet, he admitted that with so many different people watching the same program, it's difficult to cater to everyone's taste.
In fact, featuring foreign faces in such Chinese galas is not a new phenomenon in recent years. Canadian star Mark Rowswell, who is better-known among Chinese by the name Dashan, is a frequent visitor to the CCTV Spring Festival Evening Gala.
Yet many people think the case of Rowswell is different from that of Dion or PSY - Rowswell has been influenced by the Chinese culture and often performs crosstalk in Chinese.
The cost controversy
Another opposing position is that by inviting international stars, the cost of galas will soar, which goes against the policy recently put forward by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).
"It's also a kind of extravagance and waste! Please use this money to do something useful," a netizen named "HuangheiJingshidai" posted.
"International stars like Celine Dion are not easy to be invited to most Chinese programs. But on such a Chinese-only festival, on such a gala that is held almost with the power of the whole nation… it may be a good money-making opportunity for [the stars]. But do such invitations add more significance to the Spring Festival evening [celebration] or force the audience to spend big money on a luxury dinner that does not fit their taste?" a critic on ent.cqnews.net wrote.
While it has been widely reported that local TV stations are forced to invite big stars due to the fierce competition they are in, the critic also pointed out that when the CCTV Spring Festival Evening Gala is no longer sitting in the top spot, it has to lower its dignity and compete for the brightest stars in order to attract an audience.
TV stations reply
In an interview with Southern Metropolis Daily, Song Ke, general manager and founder of EverGrand Music said inviting Dion is due in part to her relationship with the Chinese audience. Song, together with Gao Xiaosong, co-founder of EverGrand Music, helped CCTV to invite Dion.
"Celine Dion has strong influence in China and her fans cover a wide range of ages. Her image is good, which allows her to easily pass the censors. But the most important thing is that since the screening of the 3D [version of the movie] Titanic, China has experienced another round of Titanic fever," he said. At the CCTV Gala, Dion is expected to perform her 1997 international No.1 hit "My Heart Will Go On," the love ballad from Titanic.Gao Xiaosong added that they chose Dion over other potential candidates like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, although this claim has not been substantiated.
Also, according to Gao and Song Ke, Dion will sing the Chinese song, "Jasmine Flower," in a duet with Chinese singer Song Zuying.
Answering concerns that the Gala may be spending excessively for such high-wattage star power, Song said Dion's contract is "very reasonable," although he did not reveal the amount.
Hunan TV stays local
Answering similar questions, the person in charge of the Spring Festival Evening Gala for Hunan TV, Liao Chen, spoke by phone with the Global Times.
Liao said that every year Hunan TV's Spring Festival Evening Gala is held on the xiao nian ye (small year eve), which falls one week before the Chinese Lunar New Year. This way, they avoid head-to-head competition with other galas.
Therefore, she refuted claims by some netizens' that inviting foreign stars is simply to take part in the fierce competition.
Liao agreed that galas need stars, whether in singing or dancing programs. But she said, "Hunan TV's gala is always known for its good content and ideas. And we do not invite top stars. We do everything on the basis of saving money."
She also explained that their choice to invite South Korean girl group f(x) was partly based on the fact that the lead singer, Song Qian, is Chinese.
"And before we invited them, we took a poll on our official Sina Weibo, asking netizens to vote for which South Korean star they would most like to come to Hunan TV. The support for f(x) is high," she added.
To prove the Spring Festival Evening Gala of Hunan TV is centered around staying close to home, Liao gave another example. "Famous singer Liu Huan was also invited, because he is the son-in-law of a Hunan family," she said.
On one hand TV stations are trying their best to please the audience, but on the other hand people find it hard to understand such extraordinary costs for one night of fun.
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