Celine Dion performs at CCTV's Spring Festival Gala, February 9. Photo: CFP
CCTV's Spring Festival Gala loses battle to maintain rating
As the long holiday for the Spring Festival of China's lunar new year comes to an end, there are the inevitable comparisons between this year's CCTV (China Central Television) gala program and the competing offerings of local satellite TV stations. Quality aside, one clear theme has emerged: CCTV's Spring Festival Gala is getting more controversial nowadays.
As the faithful companion to national audiences for over 30 years on Lunar New Year's Eve, the Spring Festival Gala produced by CCTV was once regarded as an essential element in the way Chinese people celebrated the most joyous occasion of the year. It reached its prime time in the early and middle years when most people in the country didn't have so many entertainment options as today.
But now the iconic program must face various fault-finding criticism from the minute it starts to be produced to the end of its broadcast. Since the 2013 CCTV Spring Festival Gala announced the beginning of preparations last July, many things, from the choice of the general director and hosts, to who would be invited to the gala all became controversial topics.
While advocates say that each year the massive event takes the time and energy of many people, and audiences should just relax and enjoy it, critics are already forecasting the show's gloomy future.
"Unlike in the past, people now have so many different tastes for both material and spiritual products. It's impossible to satisfy everyone, it (CCTV's gala) is inevitably going downward," said a cultural critic pennamed Yun Feiyang.
Though the program's future is hard to predict, a declining audience rating each year does say something. Recent figures from the CSM Media Research Company (a leading company in audience rating research of Chinese TV market) show that the audience rating for the 2013 CCTV Spring Festival Gala on CCTV-1 was 11.362 percent, a nearly 6 point drop from 2012.
Meanwhile, the figures for local TV stations' Spring Festival programs are encouraging. Their audience ratings cannot be directly compared since most of those stations choose to broadcast their productions during a different time-slot to avoid head-to-head competition with CCTV's gala on that most important night; however, the local productions are becoming increasingly eye-catching.
Among local TV stations, Jiangsu ranks No.1 with its audience rating reaching 3.982 percent. Highlights in its Spring Festival gala are not a few, including the most popular sketch artist Zhao Benshan, pop music group F4, and the reunion of the three leading actresses for the once red-hot TV drama Legend of the White Snake.
Liaoning TV station this year became the No.2 among local TV stations as its audience rating reaching 2.848 percent mostly due to the performances brought by "The Group of Zhao" who are all apprentices of Zhao Benshan. Some other attractive local galas are mainly those from stations like Hunan and Dragon TV.
Some people have said that perhaps the absence of funny-man Zhao Benshan caused the audience to lose interest in CCTV's Spring Festival Gala even before watching it. For years Zhao's performance had been the most anticipated segment of the four-hour program, and his absence for two consecutive years (2012 and 2013 galas) disappointed many viewers, especially those who are middle aged and older.
In fact, not just Zhao, but a whole group of senior artists like him who have earned a wide audience base for their performance in sketch comedy or other spoken programs have disappeared from the stage of CCTV's gala in recent years.
"Old artists like Zhao Benshan and Huang Hong perform our life on stage, which makes us feel cordial and sympathetic," said Fan Yonggui, a retiree in Huozhou, Shanxi Province.
"Most of this year's sketch programs seem to be for young people," said Fan.
"The gradual departure of artists like Chen Peisi, Zhao Benshan and Song Dandan has declared the end of the golden age for the language programs on CCTV's gala," said Yun.
While reminiscing about the classic performances of senior artists, audiences are also seeking something funny to remember from this year's gala. For example, several lines from earlier sketches have become popular, like "You look tiny (pronouncing wei suo in Chinese), but I didn't expect your heart to be so dirty (also reading wei suo)!"
On the other hand, highlights in singing and dancing segments are not a few in recent years. This year, the combination of Chinese famous singer Song Zuying and Celine Dion has won much acclaim. Though inviting international pop stars is not new in China in recent years, seeing one sing a duet of China's classic folk song Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), as Dion did, was a nice surprise for the Chinese audience.
Still a trend setter
Besides its entertaining function, in recent years CCTV's galas have taken on a side job: signaling the next fashion fad. The costumes and stage props used by performers have become a focal point for fashion and pop culture followers.
In 2010's gala, a pink coat worn by actress Niu Li in a sketch performance became so popular among female viewers that many tried to buy the same design on the Internet.
This year, after the gala, a previously less familiar brand to Chinese is becoming popular. Oscar de la Renta is now increasingly known among fashion followers thanks to two Chinese pop stars who wore it at the gala. Firstly was Zhang Liangying, a pop singer appearing in a lavender dress, then the actress Sun Li appeared in a cyan-colored de la Renta dress.
But unlike the craze generated by that "pink coat," many potential buyers thought more practically. A netizen named Xin Rui said, "Aside from being too expensive, those dresses are only suitable for certain occasions like weddings."