Live, from New York... No, make that China... It’s SaturdayNight
Iconic NBC comedy show will be aired via mega online deal
Millions of television viewers in China will get the chance to become acquainted with the popular US sketch comedy show SaturdayNight Live (SNL) under a partnership announced on Thursday between Sohu.com and Comcast Corp.
The variety show — which is in its 39th season in the US —pokes fun at pop culture, celebrities and sports icons. SNL will be shown exclusively on Sohu Video, an arm of the popular Chinese media and mobile services group Sohu. com Inc (Sohu).
Popular American shows already available on Sohu Video include The Big Bang Theory and Homeland.
Sohu Chairman and CEO Charles Zhang said he didn’t expect SNL’s edgy tendencies to get the company into trouble in China.
“It’s a different political setting,” Zhang said Thursday at a news conference in Beijing. “Things that are controversial in America are probably not controversial in China.”
However, Mark Fratrik, vice-president and chief economist for Chantilly, Virginia-based media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey, said he was “somewhat intrigued by the use of SNL as an introductory vehicle.”
“The satire is not too internationally political; it’s much more of a US domestic satire. It caters to a younger demographic, but on the other hand it might be pushing some boundaries,” he said on Thursday in an interview with China Daily.
And Fratrik sees some reason for pause when it comes to the topics of SNL’s skits.
“I wonder whether or not there may be a concern of some censorship,” Fratrik said. “Not that SNL deals with China specifically, but some of the topics push the envelope for on-air television in the US. Will the Chinese care if the SNL skit trashes the right or the left in the US — probably not — but they may get more concerned about some of the social skits.”
He also said the Comcast move “seems like a natural outgrowth” for the US entertainment conglomerate.
“Comcast owns NBC Universal, which has all the rights to Saturday Night Live, and it’s just repurposing that programming in yet another venue,” Fratrik said. “It seems like a natural outgrowth for Comcast. It doesn’t surprise me that this type of program is leading the path to more distribution of Americanbased
na already has the largest internet population and e-commerce marketplace in the world.” BRENDAN AHERN MANAGING DIRECTOR AT KRANE SHARES
US shows have been very successful at generating online advertising revenue in China. Depending on SNL’s popularity, Chinese television companies could look into producing similar shows, Zhang said.
Sohu will offer the variety show the Monday after it’s broadcast in the US and a version with Chinese subtitles will be available the following week, Sohu said in its announcement Thursday.
By partnering with NBC to bring SNL to millions of Chinese viewers, Sohu Video has made another attempt to bring further American programming to Chinese audiences.
Brendan Ahern, a managing director at Krane Shares — a US-based asset management firm that delivers China-focused information to US investors — sees the size of China’s market as a key component in the equation shaping the online entertainment industry.
“China already has the largest internet population and e-commerce marketplace in the world,” Ahern said Dec 24 in an e-mail to China Daily. “Internet usage still has further upside.”
“The opening of China to Western companies has been signaled by reforms outlined in the Third Plenum and Shanghai Free Trade Zone,” Ahern added. “One should expect further partnership deals by Western media companies seeking to gain access to China’s web savvy population.”
The deal between Sohu and Comcast marks the latest example of a foreign media company gaining access to Chinese markets.
In December, Viacom Inc signed a yearlong pact with Sohu Video that allowed for more than 200 hours of Nickelodeon programming to be made available for free online in China.
Another Viacom holding, MTV, signed a deal in 2006 to disseminate programming through Baidu Inc, China’s largest search engine.
“As we have seen in the United States, the focus on compelling content is a critical differentiator,” Ahern said. “E-commerce in China has grown at an annualized growth rate of 70 percent since 2009 according to Bain & Company. The mainland markets offer a massive opportunity for Western media.”
Sohu Chairman and CEO Charles Zhang strikes a pose next to a poster of American irreverent comedy sketch show Saturday NightLive, after a press conference at the Sohu Media Plaza in Beijing on Thursday.