With temperatures pushing triple digits, it was another sweltering day on August 5th in China, and an announcement from CCTV5 on Weibo made it even hotter…
The state-owned media giant released a breaking news story: they are going to broadcast Premier League games on weekends for the upcoming 2015-16 season.
Over 14,000 forwards of this announcement Weibo post indicates how powerful CCTV is in China and how popular the Premier League is among Chinese football fans.
CCTV is known for its broadcasting of Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A for the past decades; however, few people would remember that there have been times when Premier League was shown live on the most covered TV platform in China.
Sun Jihai of Manchester City in action against Everton in a Premier League game back in August, 2002 | Courtesy of Getty Images Sport
Those were the days when Wayne Rooney was still an Everton player, while two Chinese footballers, Li Tie and Sun Jihai, were playing in the top flight of English football.
According to Duan Xuan, senior commentator for CCTV5, the ‘China Derby’ featuring Manchester City’s Sun Jihai and Everton’s Li Tie was among the highest ratings of 2002-03 season. It was the golden time for Premier League in China. Though CCTV was interested in broadcasting the EPL for the following seasons, a collapse between them and the copyright holders resulted in an absence of over 12 years for the EPL on CCTV.
During this time, the Premier League has underwent the process from free-to-view to pay-per-view. In the summer of 2007, Tiansheng spent 50 million USD to get the TV rights of the Premier League for 3 consecutive seasons in Mainland China. But their full-pay policy turned out to be too soon for the Chinese market. After three years, the company bankrupted.
Super Sports then became the next copyright holder in China. Although there is still criticism about them, their combined package of free and pay-per-view matches is getting a much better receptions among Premier League fans. Super Sports also collaborated well with both online video platforms and TV giants. This move made it possible for the EPL to get back on CCTV.
Watford players celebrate their first goal during the opening game of 2015-16 season at Goodison Park | Courtesy of Getty Images Sport
However, like other media partners in China, CCTV is also restricted by Super Sports to the free package. They can only pick from those games scheduled on Saturdays at 3pm GMT and Sundays at 4pm GMT, which means there is big possibility the best games of the gameweek are not allowed to be shown on CCTV.
Let’s take the first gameweek for instance. All games for the top 4 teams of 2014-15 season were not scheduled at these time periods, which made CCTV pick Everton vs Watford as their opening game of the season. Indeed, it was a great game, but the audience ratings were not comparable to those featuring the top teams.
This week, the situation is reversed. Defending champion Chelsea are going to Etihad Stadium to face last season’s runner-up Manchester City on Sunday 4pm GMT. CCTV5 will live broadcast this game to its vast audience. Let’s wait and see how the masses react.