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Illegal 4th net changes TV landscape.

Rd ing into Central Taipei along the elevated, traffic-clogged, artery, one can see the roofs of the tightly condensed apartment buildings littered with antennae. And from every rooftop, and down the sides of every tenement building, run thousands of cable lines. The visual image underscores the difficulty there will be the enforcing any new cable laws, even as regulators try to stem the overwhelming popularity of a de facto illegal Fourth Network. The sheer number of homes plugged into illegal delivery systems raises the question: will foreign producers ever be able to retrieve licensing fees for their product in Taiwan?

Not only is Taiwan battling some 300-plus illegal cable operations scattered across the island of 20 million people, but it must also monitor the "MTV Clubs" where it is customary for Taiwanese to gather and watch pirated movies from the U.S., Japan and Hong Kong, to name a few sources. The proposed new cable laws would see about 60 new systems opening across the island, with various political factions vying for control of the operations.

Even terrestrial broadcasters such as Taiwan Television Enterprise, Ltd. (TTV), have little recourse against this Fourth Network. TTV president Walter C.H. Wang said, "We cannot compete with them. Right now they don't have to pay copyrights. They don't have to pay taxes." The same plight exists for the other two broadcasters, China Television Company (CTC) and China Television System (CTS).

"People are changing their television viewing habits," continued Wang. "They are watching programming from STAR. And when the Fourth Network gets legalized, they are going to be buying product from all over the world. People are going to have many more alternatives, so if we want to survive, we'll have to produce good local programs. And programs of a higher quality." Currently, TTV broadcasts roughly 80 per cent local product and 20 per cent imports, mainly from the U.S., the U.K., Hong Kong and Japan. With law limiting foreign imports to 30 per cent of programming, CTC and CTS have a similar schedule composition. The terrestrial's problems in drawing audience are compounded by the fact that the Fourth Network frequently broadcasts the most popular foreign product illegally, which means that when a TTV does buy a hit series, it may already have been aired illegally.

The intellectual alternative to the terrestrials and the illegal cablers is the soon-to-launch Public Television (PTV) station. Previously, PTV had produced 15 hours a week which aired locally on the three terrestrials. PTV is expected to begin broadcasting from its brand new facilities later this year. Their licensing has been tied up for several years in the drafting of a public television law in Taiwan. Noted PTV Organizing Committee President Ivan H. Wang: "We are modeling ourselves after the PBS of the U.S., and we also look to the spirit of the BBC and NHK. We want to be absolutely different than the commercial TV we've had here for the past 30 years."

PTV is also cognizant of the U.S. battle to improve the quality of children's programming, as Wang cited a series lack of quality existing in the same area in Taiwanese programming. "We provide some children's programming," he said. "Almost half is animated and it is 100 per cent imported. Much of it comes from Japan, but that product is not always suitable, because it is too violent. In the future, I'm sure our quality as well as content will be an improvement over the existing programs."

As for exporting product, not surprisingly, the Asian markets are the strong suit for TTV. Walter Wang of TTV cites Hong Kong and China as the top buyers, with some action in Japan and Koria. Serials are his best bet, though he admitted that a coproduction with Singapore was not a big success. "We have to make ourselves stronger locally, and make our own programs thought of highly by a large audience right here," said Wang. "Then we can have the muscle to compete with the international marketplace."
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Taiwan
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:673
Previous Article:Cable to open market; censorship a problem.
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