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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: April 2, 2011 NO. 14 APRIL 7, 2011
China's New Storyteller
CCTV Documentary Channel is dedicated to improving the domestic documentary industry

AT WORK: Documentary producer Pan Dawei is on the shooting site of The Rise of the Great Powers in 2005 (XINHUA)

Patricio Guzman, Chile's most celebrated documentary filmmaker, once said in an interview with The New York Times, "a country without documentary films is like a family without a photo album." For around a decade, China was without a dedicated national TV channel to showcase its own "photo album." Now, after five years of preparation, China will finally be able to capture all its special moments for future generations.

Fresh impetus

On January 1, 2011, China unveiled its first TV channel with worldwide coverage dedicated to documentaries, China Central Television (CCTV)'s Documentary Channel.

In the first week alone, the channel attracted over 50 million viewers, and this number increased sharply to more than 200 million by February. The soaring viewership not only boosted the channel's producer's confidence, but also illuminated the future for homegrown documentaries in China.

CCTV says the channel aims to build China's own cultural brand and make all efforts to become a specialized channel with the greatest brand influence in China.

"The channel will ensure a proportion of 80 percent for homegrown documentaries," said Liu Wen, director of the channel. During evening time slots every day, four hours will be allotted to new documentaries, Liu said.

"Our channel is going to open up its broadcast platform, integrate resources in the Chinese documentary industry, establish industrial standards—including standards on subject selection, form, technique and pricing—and gradually shape a unified, open and orderly documentary market, to put down a solid foundation for the industrial chain," Liu said.

Past glory

Chinese documentary films flourished in the 1980s and 90s. Many outstanding films or programs of this period, such as Discovering the Yangtze River and The Great Wall of China, have become well known among Chinese viewers. The ratings of these documentaries were on a par with some of the most popular TV series at the time. The attraction of the documentaries came from the wonderful combination of true figures and stories, real motion pictures, investigative reporting, alluring music and charming narrations which helped captivate audiences.

Once the year 2000 rolled around, the industry went into decline. Ratings became the only standard for measuring a TV program's success, and advertisements became the main source of revenue for TV channels, as commercialization and intense competition took hold in the industry. As a result, documentaries quickly fell by the wayside. Instead, Chinese TV channels became crammed with various prime time soap operas and entertainment programs, such as talent shows. As more viewers tuned into these entertainment programs, investors looked for alternatives to documentaries. Documentary filmmakers had to abandon the industry for more profitable trades. And because only one quarter of TV stations all over China still aired documentaries during that time, the Chinese documentary market fell into a vicious, deteriorating circle.

Huge potential

Now, as an important emerging economy, China's documentary industry has the chance to re-emerge.

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