What’s in a name?

Brands are bidding big sums to buy naming rights to popular TV shows

What’s in a name?

Dong Qing: always ready to mention the sponsors

Imagine X-Factor, American Idol and The Voice all rolled into one. The result? China’s latest TV extravaganza Express to Spring Festival Gala (admittedly it sounds catchier in Chinese).

The show, which is broadcast on CCTV, is an all-star competition that pits a variety of losing contestants from rival TV formats against each other. The prize? Not an album deal but the chance for three winners to perform at next year’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala, still the world’s most watched television show (see WiC96 for more on this programme).

In the competition, 36 contestants from 12 other singing contests including CCTV’s own Starlight Avenue, Super Idol from Taiwan TV, and the immensely popular The Voice of China from Zhejiang Satellite TV will all compete for a spot and a chance to sing to the Spring Festival Gala’s audience of 700 million.

“The genius of Express to Spring Festival Gala is not only does it use the country’s talent shows to do all the auditioning, but it also freerides on their ratings. It is actually very smart,” one netizen wrote.

A panel of judges and a select audience determines who will proceed. Qin Xinming, the producer, told the media: “We have three channels – professional judges, voting from the internet and through messaging. The professional judges account for 50%, while internet and phone messages each account for 25% each.”

Despite its billing, WiC found Express to Spring Festival Gala difficult going. The pace is slow with so many contestants that – diehard fans aside – it is hard to become attached to any of them. Netizens also complain that the stiff manner of host Dong Qing – a legacy of CCTV’s politically-sanitised house style, perhaps – contrasts poorly with the more natural feel of hosts on similar talent shows.

“Even the beautiful stage and brilliant choreography can’t hide the fact that CCTV is still stuck in the past! The production is from the 1970s; the format is from the 1980s and the judges from the 1990s. The only thing that’s contemporary is the contestants. The show is a mess,” another netizen complained.

But no matter, the show is already a commercial success, with financial firm Sunshine Insurance rumoured to have paid as much as Rmb100 million ($16 million) for the naming rights, says Beijing Times. To be fair, there’s bang for the firm’s buck, as host Dong regularly trots out The Sunshine Insurance Express to Spring Festival Gala title in full during proceedings.

Such naming deals have grown popular with advertisers now viewers are more adept at tuning out commercials. Thanks to the popularity of The Voice of China the cost of naming rights for primetime shows has also jumped dramatically. Herbal tea brand Jia Duo Bao, which bought the naming rights to the first season of The Voice for only Rmb60 million, recently grabbed headlines after Zhejiang TV announced the fee had increased to Rmb200 million for the second season next year. But not to be outdone, Jia Duo Bao’s rival Guangzhou Pharmaceutical (see WiC103) is reported to have obtained the naming rights to the gameshow Super Star on CCTV for 2013, as well as the lead sponsor role for three other major television events – New Year’s Concert, Lantern Festival Happy Show and Spring Festival Party – on Hunan Satellite Television, one of the country’s most-watched cable stations.

Guangzhou Pharmaceutical did not reveal how much it has paid for the exposure, although Southern Metropolis Daily reported that the maker of Wanglaoji is likely to spend at least Rmb500 million for the naming rights.

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