57 - Chinese TV

I have been watching quite a lot (for me) of the soccer action from South Africa. The Chinese channel CCTV 5, the sports channel, has been broadcasting soccer more or less continuously. The coverage is odd. By which I mean it often makes little sense or that it conflicts with what I think are principles of broadcasting.

Generally, and as almost all presentations in this country, there are two speakers, one male and one female; they take it in turns to read from the teleprompter. She makes sign that she is listening to him and he usually acts as if playing poker while she speaks. With two of the three pairs I have been watching there is little or no interaction and no spontaneity. The camera is fixed; they speak for 30 seconds and break to some sort of advert, including in that category the short prepared pieces, which will also be shown in news reports.

As to coverage of the soccer, a typical action has just occurred this morning. A match was played last night, our time. In the same ten minutes and in the order described, they show us: the result; the consequences for that group; the goals; brief shots of the coaches at the post-match interviews; and then show us the match. On the plus side, when they show a goal, that is what they show, not the pratting around afterwards. The camera work from RSA is poor – almost all is from the high camera that shows the whole pitch and we only see close ups from the sidelines when play has stopped, when the ball is out of play. We very rarely see any close-ups of play, so all the shirt pulling is missing, except when we are shown a replay as shared by the camera team. In short, there is no selectivity.

The commentary, as judged by the asides I receive in translation, has improved rapidly from a low base, The evening sessions, where a match may be shown in real time (though I suspect we have a delay of 15 minutes or so) is hosted by a large gentleman who, when sat at a desk in the studio, has no opinions but asks what he clearly thinks are penetrating questions of two soccer pundits, both of whom actually look like they have played the game. How do I conclude that?  They have that look of the person who has spent a lot of time outdoors - which is generally frowned upon here, where (pale) skin colour is important. We do actually see and hear comment that has gone from trivial to educated inside the first week, by which I judge that at least one person of decision-making status has been watching other channels and seen what is possible with the technology. I am thinking that perhaps a smart channel producer has been looking and listening to other channels and has copied (is copying) some of the comment. It would be a modern approach.

China doesn’t readily admit to the internet, so where British tv would include feedback from watchers, questions and comment, here that is not going to happen. I came across a so-called Chinese proverb – so-called, because my resident expert did not recognise the proverb at all : He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. Unfortunately, the process of asking a question is a cause for loss of face (because all teachers are perfect or they would not be teachers) and putting that with the concept of short-term targets (several recent essays on this, see footnote) explains entirely why no Chinese is willing to ask questions. This situation would be different if the proverb was attributed to Confucius, I suspect.


Two days later, and we know now that England will play Germany. The large gentleman has moved onto the studio floor - I do wish his jacket was a centimetre broader - and I have watched, in the last two nights, several presentations from him where any prompting is missing or well hidden and where his monologues are greeted with approval – he seems to be daring to express opinion. The pundits have been used for commentary on match summaries, standing in front of a large screen for their delivery, not unlike a weather report. I watched a breakdown about fouls and another about the offside rule; I’ve seen several analyses confined to a single player. In the last two days we have had what looks like a hologram display added to the reporting. It isn’t one, but it does look good. Typically, the two gents stand on the edge of the circle marked on the floor – some symbol for the World Cup – and the display is inserted for viewers in that space as if it is laid on the floor. They haven’t worked up to pointing at it, but they’re getting closer to trying that.

I caught a programme form Hong Kong, and so in English, in which the discussion pointed out that because China is not involved it can enjoy the spectacle (more) fully, it can analyse the action without bias and, while being passive, be non-discriminatory. Which is repetition, not the threesome intended (sorry).

Channel Five, CCTV5, is a sports-only channel. At the moment it is very nearly soccer only, though Wimbledon has begun. The repetition is dire (here, too, I note), and suggestive of a perception of television watching that I find as objectionable, here and now, as I do British news reporting on radio. Principally, the news is confined to a set of headlines which will be repeated with little change all day. One effect is that these lines then take on a life of their own, as if they become more true with each repetition. [Why does Word object to me using ‘which’ not ‘that’?]. BBC Radio 5 is far more immediate, lively and spontaneous (at least apparently so). China is sufficiently big that the monolithic size of tv corporations drags everything down to a low base level. In this regard, the World Cup has allowed someone at CCTV5 to be inventive and adventurous – which I must applaud, and do so whole-heartedly. I can only hope that the evidence of rapid learning becomes common practice.

DJS 20100625

  See Looking Both Ways, Interruptions, Issues of Face, Short-term targets; if you’ve not read any, I suggest this order will give the most enjoyment. As for CCTV Channel 5, read the City Wall Race for DJS’s interviews.



© David Scoins 2017