World: Medium of the Week - OMC mixes US imports and home-grown content

Shanghai's dedicated film channel looks to a lucrative future, Sebastian Tong says.

The Oriental Movie Channel launched in mainland China in December and is already claiming to be the second-most-watched channel in Shanghai.

Yet there's little competition, as foreign pay-TV channels, such as HBO, remain scarce. Shanghai Media & Entertainment Group, the city's largest media conglomerate, launched OMC to four million cable viewers among Shanghai's middle class.

Although the national broadcaster, Chinese Central Television, introduced Chinese audiences to the movie-channel concept with its CCTV-6 service a decade ago, OMC is only the third film channel in the country. China's only other dedicated movie channel made its debut in the same month as OMC - but the "Western Movie Channel" is available only in the country's western Shan-xi province.

Observers speculate that this sudden spurt of media action is due to increased foreign competition: China lifted its ban on foreign investment in TV and film production companies just last month. In anticipation of this, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and France's Vivendi Universal had already entered into talks with Chinese authorities so they could be the first international pay-TV players to sign up local subscribers.

OMC's daily line-up consists of at least six films and six TV series.

In line with regulatory requirements, local productions dominate its line-up, comprising about 80 per cent of the programming.

OMC's offshore fare is fairly eclectic. Besides Hollywood blockbusters such as The Matrix and Face/Off, which are shown in both English and dubbed into Mandarin, the channel also screens content from closer to home, such as the Hong Kong art-house auteur Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love and two Japanese animated series. American TV series such as The X-Files and 24 are also on offer.

"Whether we increase our foreign content will depend on government regulations," David Wang, the general manager of Tian He Hu Dong, the local shop appointed as OMC's ad agency, says.

Wang says the channel will increase the number of movies it shows over the coming months. All-film content is an eventual aim and TV dramas on the fledgling channel will be moved to an existing SMEG drama channel, allowing OMC to concentrate solely on films.

"We're not aiming to have an HBO format, but we do hope to have a 100 per cent film channel in three years' time," Wang says.

Wang acknowledges that the new channel faces stiff competition from the dominant national broadcaster. "CCTV-6 shows very international content and it is a strong competitor. But as an all-movie 24-hour local channel, we have a natural advantage," he says.

Wang adds: "There will be some time before we begin attracting the advertising budget we want, but China's market development is rapid and I am confident the channel will reach its target after the first six months."

MindShare China's national consumer insights director, Peter Tan, agrees: "Drawing on the experience of CCTV-6's success, we think that this channel has a bright future."

Channel: Oriental Movie Channel

Ownership: Shanghai Media & Entertainment Group

Audience: Four million subscribers, 16 million city inhabitants

Average cost of an advertising slot: 20,000 yuan

Typical advertisers: Lancome, Chivas Regal, BMW, Nissan Motors

Competitors: CCTV-6, Shanghai Station Drama Channel (SMEG channel)

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