Waning popularity and a wounded reputation are likely to dull the edge of China’s consumer day TV expose, which is scheduled to air today, offering some relief for companies that have in the past taken pains to avoid any fallout from the once-a-year show.
The 3.15 Gala, a reference to the date it airs on each year, is similar to the CBS network’s 60 Minutes in the US, and has often triggered a damage-control campaign by the local and global firms it targets, which have included Apple Inc and automaker Volkswagen AG.
Consumer rights is a sensitive issue in China, which has been beset by a series of product safety scandals over the past few years. These scandals are often fanned by the media and have the potential to go viral: KFC parent Yum Brands Inc has struggled to quell anger over Chinese media reports in late 2012 about excessive antibiotic use by a few KFC suppliers in China.
However, the show, like other programs by state-run China Central Television (CCTV), is struggling to click with younger viewers hooked to online programming and imports such as British detective show Sherlock and US political drama House of Cards.
“Now I spend much time watching videos, mostly US and UK TV drama, on my iPad tablet and cellphone. Over the past month I’ve been following Sherlock,” said Chen Kang, 23, a technician based in the eastern city of Wuxi. “I don’t watch much regular TV now, let alone CCTV and the 3.15 show.”
Kang’s generation — a key demographic driving Chinese consumption patterns — are about 30 percent less likely than their elders to tune into gala-style shows on CCTV, according to data from Chinese media analysis firm CTR.
CCTV could not be reached for comment.
Negative reports in Chinese media, including on state TV, can have a serious impact for global firms because of how quickly the complaints spread online.
“I’ve never watched 3.15, but I always hear what’s happened another way,” said Cai Jiejing, 26, a media professional in Shanghai. Cai said she watches House of Cards and Big Bang Theory on online Chinese TV sites Sohu and Youku.
China’s state broadcaster has also come under fire over the past year, with consumers, economists and even CCTV staff criticizing a report in October that targeted high prices at US coffee chain Starbucks Corp.
The country’s active and influential online commentators also rushed to the defense of US smartphone maker Apple when it was criticized on last year’s 3.15 Gala over its warranty policy in China.
“I think that skepticism over the years has increased as more information has come out about back stories on certain issues,” said Sam Flemming, Shanghai-based founder and CEO of social media information firm CIC, which helps firms assess the consumer response to media exposes such as on 3.15 Gala.
Some media professionals said CCTV may air a particularly hard-hitting consumer day show to shore up its reputation.
Colleen Cheng (程玲), comanaging director at Ogilvy PR Beijing said food and e-commerce companies were likely targets this year, but cautioned that CCTV was very secretive about its programming.
“CCTV keep this very confidential, and until the last minute we won’t know which companies it’s going to be,” she said.