Mexico's Televisa network, known around the world for its soap operas, said it plans to expand its influence in China, following the lead of taco chains and other Mexican businesses looking for a slice of the Asian nation's market.
The company said on Thursday it has signed a deal with the Chinese government to make Chinese versions of its most successful programming, including the reality show Dancing for a Dream, and its soap operas, which are dubbed into more than 50 languages including Romanian and Korean.
Grupo Televisa SA said it already has tested the market by dubbing four soap operas, or "telenovelas," into Mandarin since 2000 for broadcast in China, where they have been hits.
"Although entering the Chinese market is a big challenge, Televisa has established an excellent relationship with the main players to open the doors," said Televisa's vice president, Jose Baston.
Televisa also said that next week it will begin cable transmissions in Mexico of China's government-run channel CCTV dubbed into Spanish.
Battling for position
International media companies have been battling for a place in China's rapidly expanding economy. They include Rupert Murdoch's STAR Group Ltd.
But Televisa hopes to create its own niche with the potent Latin formula of its melodramas, packed with glamorous stars and rags-to-riches tales, which have won over viewers from Indonesia to Russia, as well as dominating the market in Latin America.
The programs helped give Televisa total revenue of about US$3.45 billion last year.
"We are offering a product that China doesn't have," Baston said. "The Chinese viewers have a similar demographic to the Mexicans. The difference is there are 1.3 billion of them instead of 100 million."
Baston said Televisa's partnership with the Chinese government should help it avoid regulation problems that have bogged down some other foreign investors trying to break into the market.
Chinese Ambassador to Mexico Yin Hengmin said that the Mexican soap operas have enormous potential.
"Mexican soap operas deal with issues like the family, power and social problems, which the Chinese people can relate to," he said.
Other companies also have started selling uniquely Mexican products to the Chinese.
In January, the popular taco chain El Fogoncito opened its first restaurant in China and announced plans for 25 more in the next four years in Beijing and Shanghai.
The Mexican government is encouraging companies to expand in China to make up for a gaping trade deficit with the Asian tiger.
Last year, Mexican exports to China totaled US$1.7 billion, while Chinese imports into Mexico were US$24.4 billion, according to the Mexican Economy Ministry.
Many Mexican manufacturers complain bitterly they have been undercut by cheap Chinese imports, extending even to Chinese-made images of Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupes.
High tariffs imposed on Chinese products have failed to stop the flood of goods as they are often imported into the US and smuggled over the border.
Thursday's announcement also comes as Televisa sues US Spanish language network Univision over the US broadcaster's right to place Televisa content on the Internet in the US.