Beijing's Olympic Games will open on Friday 8 August 2008 at 8pm local time. It's an event that will reveal to the world the extent of China's economic development during the past 30 years. It will be a proud moment for this country of more than 1.3 billion people.
In the marketing and media sectors, there is ferocious activity as companies race to prepare. In many respects, this race would be happening without the Olympics, because China's marketing infrastructure is in a hurry to meet the demands of an expanding, wealthier, more-educated consumer base that is becoming media- and brand-savvy. The Olympics, it could be said, is the immediate catalyst for the change.
This will be the "technology games". 3G telephony, wi-fi and IPTV in and outside China will open up new viewership opportunities. According to Universal McCann's new global research on mobility, 3G phones are the most in-demand portable devices worldwide. China is no exception.
Traditional Olympics sponsorships by the big-name Western companies are being joined by the new kids on the block - the burgeoning Chinese brands, such as Air China, China Telecom, Sinopec (petrochemical), Haier (consumer durables) and Tsingtao (beer).
Chinese brands alone will spend more than $550 million during the games on campaigns focused within China. The brands will be seen in a global context and there is great potential to revolutionise engagement with consumers.
How the official sponsors, Chinese and international, will execute their programmes remains a subject of great intrigue. Companies are jealously protecting their plans to avoid ambush and me-too initiatives by rivals, which will undoubtedly happen even with the well-prepared and structured rules developed by the International Olympic Committee and the Chinese authorities.
How much international and Chinese companies will spend on national media in Olympics-related marketing is also a great unknown. Early in 2008, the big Chinese national TV network CCTV will announce the cost and nature of its Olympics advertising packages, and this will shape many marketers' plans. CCTV has all primary broadcast rights for national Olympics viewership, and although Chinese local and satellite TV channels will be carrying Olympics broadcasts, they will have no advertising rights.
We believe media expenditure in China will grow more than 24 per cent in 2008, with the Olympics the obvious driver. This is much higher than the 18 per cent growth witnessed in 2006. These growth rates are higher than the growth rate of China's economy in the past three to four years, which has averaged 10.4 per cent.
TV spend will probably surge by 50 per cent, with CCTV the big winner. Local TV is likely to witness a drop of about 20 per cent in revenues because of the ban on it carrying Olympic-related commercials. The same restriction applied during the Athens Olympics in 2004.
The online media spend is set to double next year to about $2 billion. This huge increase will be accompanied by a continuing explosion in user-generated content, an area of internet 2.0 activity where China clearly leads the world.
Out-of-home media is also in for a boost. Looking at growth experienced during the last Fifa World Cup, out-of-home media spend increased by more than 30 per cent. Next year in China, OOH media is expected to increase by a similar amount, mainly on account of premium pricing. In Beijing itself, there will be a rearrangement of outdoor sites, especially around the airport and Olympics- related venues, to benefit sponsors.
Print advertising is expected to remain stable. Apart from inflation, the growth area for print media owners will be special sections and pull-outs.
Looking at media audiences, we expect significant increases. TV viewing in China will increase by 20 to 40 per cent, with a focus on sports and news programming. The Olympics will be bad news for other programme platforms, such as soaps, serials and drama, with audiences falling by between 5 to 13 per cent.
Online audiences will grow. During the Athens Olympics, online traffic increased significantly. Sina.com, the largest Chinese-language infotainment web portal, reported that during the World Cup, 3.4 million comments and reports were generated.
With clutter levels racing to unprecedented highs in the lead-up to, and during, the Olympics, marketers need to focus on strategy and execution. New communications technologies are arriving and the challenges will be managing media fragmentation and inflation.
Portable devices are an integral part of any social engagement strategy, and users are being encouraged to move content from desktop to mobile devices. This means living by the rules of social media - creativity, engagement and interaction are essential ingredients for marketers. Having said that, simplicity will be a key driver from a user's perspective.
But with all these issues for marketers, their brands and the media, what the world will see at 8pm on 08.08.08 will be the "New China". And it will one of the biggest coming-out events we've ever known.
- Manpreet Singh is the chief executive of Universal McCann China.