Live, from New York... No, make that China... It’s Satur­dayNight

Iconic NBC com­edy show will be aired via mega online deal

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By JACK FREIFELDER in New York jack­freifelder@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

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

Chi‘

na al­ready has the largest in­ter­net pop­u­la­tion and e-com­merce mar­ket­place in the world.” BREN­DAN AH­ERN MAN­AG­ING DI­REC­TOR AT KRANE SHARES

pro­gram­ming.”

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.”

ANDY WONG / AP

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.

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