A review of the 6th Chinese TV and Audio-Visual Research Conference (CTARC)


From the first TV station in Mainland China in the 1950s, Chinese TV’s history is one filled with political dynamics. It was initiated as a propaganda tool whilst gradually developing as a popular medium for public entertainment, education, and enlightenment. However, the Chinese TV landscape has dramatically evolved in the 21st century due to the fast progress of digital technologies and political governance – TV has been redefined, deconstructed, and reconstructed, especially in the recent COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, the 6th conference of Chinese TV and Audio-Visual Research in Shanghai, in late October 2020, addressed the current issues to comprehensively understand today’s Chinese TV landscape, as well as its impacts, by inviting presentations from a diverse cohort of researchers and practitioners from Chinese universities and the TV industry. The work presented argued that, whilst it takes time to rethink the contexts of studying Chinese TV during and after COVID-19, the medium has become more digitally politicalised.

A Political-Economic Perspective

Deqiang Ji (Chinese University of Communication) proposed a study of Chinese TV from a political-economic angle, researching TV from the perspectives of commonality and commoditisation. The key here is to connect these two features with the state media system in China, examining the deconstruction and reconstruction of TV over the monopolisation of digital platform stakeholders. Because of the academic turn towards studying internet TV in recent years, TV has merged into a digitalisation process that has accelerated industrial commoditisation towards a digital economy. Ji offered a direction for current TV researchers to scrutinise the intricacies between Chinese TV, audiences, and the state media system, and the future development of TV studies into an exploration of the TV-news industrial revolution, consumer culture, and the construction of TV ideology.

Ji pointed out the concept of TV as full of ambiguities – What is TV? – is there still a “poverty of theory” in TV research?  He provided a path of political economy for understanding the Chinese TV industry, which includes 1. Advocacy: constructivism of TV; 2. Concern: commoditisation and publicity, policy orientation and regulatory initiative—commodification criticism, and public inquiry of TV; 3. Focus: contradictions and struggles, which are all still within the research framework of the bourgeoisie. Ji also emphatically presented leading trends in Chinese TV research: news and industrial reforms, consumer culture, family and ideology, all of which feature in the Chinese media landscape and are different from western commercialisation and publicity issues.

Considering TV research in the era of “platformisation”, Ji suggested scholars should see platformisation as a process restructuring a social information system and the monopolistic status of digital platforms for TV. This shift has accelerated the commodification of Chinese TV (integration into the social economy), new interactions between the state and the market, and more complex and multidimensional ideologies. Therefore, Chinese TV is an open and fluid research field that deserves more in-depth analysis in the academic world.

A Media-Convergence Perspective of Chinese TV

Xiaoying Yan, a director of Shanghai Radio and TV Station (a station that belongs to Shanghai Media Group), introduced a textual analysis of some leading opinions on convergence reform for TV. The motivation for the survival of traditional TV has shown an urgency along with the necessity to create a new era for Chinese TV development.

Using her professional experience, Yan pointed out that, while the global pandemic has given traditional TV an advantage in playing a key role in comforting people, structural problems have become increasingly prominent. During 2020, Shanghai Media Group’s (SMG) local prime time ratings increased by 120%. Such good results were not only brought by the epidemic, but also by the credibility of traditional TV. The ratings of various traditional media platforms rose on a large scale, but there was also a downward trend after the resumption of work and production. However, in the first half of 2020, SMG’s advertising revenue did not change significantly, but there was still a subsequent downward trend. The current market competition has become fierce, the advertising environment of provincial Chinese TV stations is gradually deteriorating, which results in a squeeze of content production and creativity. There are two main ways to address this issue in the current TV industry, one of which is MCN – a multi-channel network.  In recent years, an aggregation of platforms has generated the capacity for continuous content production, which is highly welcomed in today’s Chinese TV reforms and fits well in the current Chinese media landscape. For instance, one of Dragon TV’s (a TV channel affiliated with SMG) entertainment programmes Extreme Challenge has been tried and integrated within the live broadcast market and continuously produces good production capacity. While this method largely depends on content creativity and innovation, it directly depends on TV institutional mechanisms in China.

Another way is streaming media. In the era of media convergence, with the development of 5G technology, streaming media offers rich content and a positive user experience. SMG chose streaming media as its strategic direction for deepening TV reform whilst also focusing on content. While the market directs production, content comes from business investment, and media corporations must invest in the production and innovation of their own content while, at the same time, also needing to do a good job of publicity, as well as review and management.

A Digitalised Perspective

Another keynote speaker, Jiang Chang (Shenzhen University) inspired us to take into account the deep extent of the digitalisation of TV. TV is no longer a medium impacting people but a sort of ecology that cultivates audiences, from which they experience technological affordance, affective turn, mediatisation, and visual democracy. Existing scholarship about the socio-material paradigm (see Anderson, 2013) can be applied to the progress of TV digitalisation in which the audience has turned from receivers to creators. Hence, TV has evolved to become an all-encompassing environment that, to a great extent, influences our daily behaviour and life. Chang raised a pressing issue on how to critically explore the platformisation process of digital TV by user experience, closely connecting the micro personal experience to macro development of the TV industry.

Chang started with: “what exactly is being studied in TV research”, revealing that TV has now become a special field, important and diffuse. He specifically argued the definition of TV from the perspective of aesthetics, pointing out that TV is “the main medium for rationalising the external world” and “a highly autonomous aesthetic field.” The entity “TV”, the specific spatial concept of the living room for TV viewing, and even the compound word “radio and TV” should, in his view, be disregarded. Chang inspired researchers to look at the uniqueness of TV development in the modern digitalised media landscape.

Chang highlighted the watershed of global TV research after the 2000s, namely digitisation. He referred to the concept of CW Anderson (2013), indicating that the digitisation of media to digitisation of culture is a “socio-material paradigm”. The change of the research object has gone from acceptance to creation and to experience. Therefore, when analysing various TV behaviours, new theories should be proposed for new behaviours in the digital era of TV, such as double-speed viewing, the disappearance of an intermediary, aesthetic separation, and so on. Therefore, he believes that today’s TV is no longer an object, but is becoming our environment and body. Therefore, the “shortcut for TV research in the digital age” lies in “ecology”. Researching TV may be able to refresh our thinking in terms of the use of vocabulary, such as from “impact” to “cultivate”; from “function” to “role”; from “development” to “evolvement”.

Jun Liu (Chinese University of Communication) raised two questions for current Chinese TV research. The first is the current dilemma about radio and TV research, which includes three aspects -lack of problem awareness, poor theoretical thinking (too descriptive, lack of criticism), and outdated common sense (old commonplace talks). The second question is the present trend of current radio and TV research: new sharpening and integration. He argued that the art appreciation model has a spiralling form from early direct facing public (jumping the gods), to the western modern art form (introverted and contracted, the contemplation of the museum), and then to the centralisation of mass media after the advent of TV (everyone accepts the same information). The current TV landscape has returned to privatisation, specialisation and verticalisation. Followed on from this, Liu pointed out that the trend of Chinese radio and TV research is a cutting-edge proposition in the short term, but in the long term, it tends to cross borders. “TV sets may disappear, but TV will not. It will exist as an extension of ideology.” As an example, Liu emphasised that the development of Chinese TV is driven by politics which not only includes other media and capital, but also the logic of cultural (re)shaping.

A Fandom Perspective

In this conference, the role of fans’ in reshaping Chinese TV was emphasised, which has not been commonly witnessed in other Chinese TV themed conferences. TV is no longer a medium that impacts people but a sort of ecology that cultivates audiences. TV stakeholders examine the intergenerational cut-through of fans, rather than listening to them, redefining the concept of youth and repackaging TV programmes. An increasing number of presented papers echoed the emerging social value of fans for TV productions arguing that, especially during social distancing, fans have become dazed, anxious and vacant while the behaviour of fanaticism became a new form of lifestyle while reflecting upon the rationality of fandom that may challenge existing perceptions and understanding of TV in Chinese popular culture. Audiences utilised the identity of being a fan of Chinese TV to reconstruct their imagined world and community.

The study of Chinese TV fans requires further considerations from a perspective of ternary balance (official institutions, TV producers, and fans). When TV fans encountered the contradiction between fans and the state TV system, their evolved classification of fan identity from fan activists through general/ordinary fans to silent fans indicated an interrelation of TV fan activism and official governance in China (Zheng, 2020). The increasing self-disclosure via fandom proposed various implications in the Chinese TV landscape – different stakeholders utilised fan activists as an amplifier to exert political influences on TV productions so as to cater to the state TV system in China for business purposes. However, there are conflicts centered on the demand of fans’ self-obsession and expression and the governance of TV production under Chinese media censorship, the restricted construction for fan collectivism and the digitalisation of Chinese TV for a wide reach, as well as the preference of fan-based video streaming and increased internet governance of fan-made videos (TV). Fans’ affective sensibility, as well as emotional consumption, has been taken advantage of by TV stakeholders for monetary and business interests, whilst fans’ unfamiliarity of governance and management for Chinese TV resulted in the limits of fan creativity and innovation for promoting Chinese TV development.

The evolvement of Chinese TV fan identity under the tightened censorship in China implied a lack of a robust mechanism from both official institutions and civic agencies/communities. A self-contained system for leading fan practices under Chinese TV governance and management in the digital sphere was thereby strongly suggested. My presentation called for action from both TV practitioners, civic associations, and fan communities to facilitate the elaboration of fan creativity, as well as the collaboration between the Chinese TV industry and fans for nurturing Chinese TV to a large extent.

The 6th Chinese TV and Audio-Visual Research Conference was one of a few offline conferences during the global pandemic in 2020 that presented Chinese TV research from diverse perspectives including platformisation and digitalisation of TV, fan engagement with TV, and media convergence for TV development in the Chinese media landscape. It has left us thinking more critically about pressing academic arguments. The academic questions, challenges, directions, and methodologies raised in the conference largely inspired scholars of Chinese TV studies to scrutinise the updated development of Chinese TV in the digital era, especially after COVID-19.


Sharon Shiyu Zheng is a Lecturer in PR, Media and Communication at Newcastle University, UK. She did her PhD at University of Warwick, UK. Her research focuses on qualitative research, British/Chinese TV, gendered/transcultural fandom, digital media and cultural policy studies. She has published articles in Qualitative Inquiry, Information, Communication & Society, Cultural Trends, etc.




Anderson, C. W. 2013. Towards a sociology of computational and algorithmic journalism. New Media & Society15(7), 1005-1021. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444812465137

Zheng, S. 2020. Chinese fans’ patriotism creating quandary in the digital media era. Galactic Media: Journal of Media Studies, 2(4), 87-111. https://doi.org/10.46539/gmd.v2i4.87