Sir Run Run Shaw
邵逸夫

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Sir Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫, original name 邵仁楞, born 1907) is a film producer in Hong Kong. He was born and raised in China but received education in schools run by Americans.

During the summer vacation at age 19, he followed his third elder brother Sun Me Shaw to Singapore to start a film market there. He developed deep interest in movie business since. He and his brother founded the South Seas Film in 1930, which later became Shaw Studio.

In 1980s, he started to invest in Hong Kong TVB and became the chairman of the board of the multi-billion dollar TV empire.

In 1974, Queen Elizabeth II granted him an MBE. He received his knighthood in 1977.

His wife died at age 85 in 1987. Shaw studio stopped filming in the same year.

He remarried in Las Vegas in 1997. He received a medal from the Hong Kong government in 1998.

Over the years, he has donated billions of dollars to charity, schools and hospitals. His name is on many buildings in Hong Kong due to his generous donations.

The Shaw brothers originally started to make silent movies in Shanghai. Later they moved to Singapore in 1924. They would spend decades making films for the Malaya Peninsula, both in Chinese and Malay.   In 1959, Run Run Shaw moved to Hong Kong and built Shaw Studios.  In time, it became the largest private film studio in the world. His actors were under contract and made which ever films were given to them, much like the old Hollywood system. Thus, Run Run helped to make cinematic history in Hong Kong.  Their productions were often lavishing and well crafted.

His biggest mistakes were not signing up Bruce Lee in 1970 and later Jackie Chan in 1978.  Bruce Lee had demanded a large signing contract, something Run Run never did. Trying to learn from his mistake, later he did offer Jackie Chan a huge signing bonus, but not big enough apparently.  Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, two of Asians biggest stars ever, helped to make Golden Harvest the biggest studio in the East and in a sense ended Shaw Brothers productions completely, well almost.

In 1983, the studio stopped filming movies and only worked on television shows mostly soap operas, a rather lucrative business in Asia.   Television Broadcast Limited of Hong Kong (TVB) is one of the successful television production companies in the world.  Stars like Chow Yun Fat would get their start there.

Shaw Brothers and TVB's Run Run Shaw celebrates his 100th birthday this month
'A man who can live more than 100 years and work in cinema and entertainment business for 80 years must have something very extraordinary.'
- Hong Kong film researcher Law Kar on Mr Shaw (above)

One of  Hong Kong cinema's defining and enigmatic figures, Run Run Shaw, popularised Chinese gongfu films in the West and helped turn Hong Kong into a 'Hollywood East' over an 80-year career.

Mr Shaw, a Hong Kong film mogul who celebrates his 100th birthday this month, built the prolific Shaw Brothers film empire and the TVB television and entertainment group.

A passionate film-lover from an early age, legend has it that the young Mr Shaw first cut his teeth in the business by distributing film reels on a bicycle to rural, village cinemas in Singapore and Malaysia, giving poignancy to his name, Run Run.

He started out helping his elder brothers Runje, Runde and Renme set up a film studio in Shanghai in 1925. The brothers later moved into Hong Kong, making and distributing films to its chain of around 100 cinemas spread across other Asian markets like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

'A man who can live more than 100 years and work in cinema and entertainment business for 80 years must have something very extraordinary,' said Law Kar, a Hong Kong film researcher.

Mr Shaw rose through the ranks, and eventually split from his brothers to set up his own studio in the 1950s dubbed the 'dream factory', which ushered in a golden era of Hong Kong film-making.

'He's a great figure in the entertainment world,' Mr Law added.

The Shaw studio produced up to a thousand titles including melodramas, historical epics and gongfu classics like The One-armed Swordsman, helping to redefine genres and lure new cinema-goers not only in Hong Kong and Asia, but in the West.

It also pioneered so-called wu xia or sword-play genre films which had frenetic fight scenes with mixed weapons.

'Shaw Brothers to us back then was low-brow, very common, popular entertainment,' said Mr Law.

Ang Lee's Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a striking modern example of the genre. The Shaw influence is also evident in the films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and John Woo.

'He was not only my boss, but my idol. He worked very hard,' said Cheng Pei Pei, one of the biggest starlets at the time, who made 23 films with Shaw in the 1960s.

'He started very early in the morning, reading scripts and he watched four to five movies every day . . . If he thought a movie wasn't good, he might burn it. He was very serious,' said Ms Cheng, 61.

Ms Cheng's vintage film Come Drink With Me - in which she plays a heroine warrior who stands up to a gang of bandits - has reportedly caught the eye of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who plans a remake with director Quentin Tarantino - a known Shaw Brothers aficionado.

Business acumen

While Mr Shaw was famed for his business acumen and nose for spotting and grooming new talent, he famously turned away a brash, young actor who came to see him in the 1960s.

This spurned man, martial arts legend Bruce Lee, later teamed up with Raymond Chow, a former Shaw deputy turned rival, to make The Big Boss in 1971, propelling him to stardom.

In 1980, Mr Shaw focused on television, becoming the chairman of Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) that grew into a successful TV and entertainment empire that remains a deep influence on popular culture in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities.

While Mr Shaw's media mogul status, love of Rolls Royces and reported dalliances with actresses projected an image of glamour, the tycoon was also a private man who tended to shun the media.

'They're very, very low-key, they're not the kind of people who want it spread around, what they've done,' said a person acquainted with the Shaw family who asked not to be named.

'They are the simplest, most humble, most ordinary people you would ever meet,' the person added.

Mr Shaw - who has an estimated net worth of US$3.5 billion according to Forbes magazine - is also a noted philanthropist, having donating millions to charity through his Shaw Foundation, mostly to causes in China.

He also runs the so-called Shaw Prize, sometimes referred to as Asia's answer to the Nobel Prize, which rewards excellence in mathematics, astronomy and science, with a monetary prize of US$1 million for each laureate.

Popularly known as 'Luk Suk' or 'Sixth Uncle', Mr Shaw was born in 1907, the sixth child of a well-to-do family in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo. The precise day and month of his birth is shrouded in mystery and has never been officially released, but media reports suggest it is in October or November. -- 2007  October 6   REUTERS

The Great Shawman Turns 100

Think of Run Run Shaw and it is hard to ignore his tremendous contribution to Hong Kong's film industry. The media mogul turned 100 this week, making him one of the oldest chairmen of a listed company.

Shaw was born in October 1907, one of eight children of Shanghai textile merchant Shaw Hang Ngan and his wife Wong Shun Heung.

To this day, Run Run Shaw is affectionately known as "Luk Suk" (Uncle Six), being the sixth child in the family.

He was raised in the mainland, but received his education in American-run schools. His older brother, Run Me Shaw, started the Tien Yi Movie Company in Shanghai in 1925, distributing silent films.

At age 19, Run Run Shaw followed his older brother to Singapore to start a film market and establish the Shaw Organization. In 1930, the brothers founded the South Seas Film studio which later became Shaw Studios.

Run Run Shaw turned his focus to Hong Kong in the 1950s, and in 1967 launched Television Broadcasts (0511), growing it into a multibillion dollar TV empire ranking today as among the world's top five television producers, of which he remains chairman. He is also chairman of Shaw Brothers (0080).

Shaw became a Commander of the British Empire in 1974 and was knighted three years later.

The film and television tycoon is also a generous philanthropist, financing several schools in Hong Kong and the mainland. He also set up the Shaw Prize, which has been dubbed the "Asian Nobel Prize."

In 1932, Shaw married Wong Mee- chun, who
gave birth to four children, sons Vee-meng, now 74, and Vee- chung, 68; and daughters Soo-mun, 73, and Soo-wan, 72.

His wife died in 1987, the year Shaw Brothers stopped filming. Ten years later in Las Vegas, Shaw married former actress Mona Fong Yat-wa, who had been his personal assistant at Shaw Brothers and TVB.

Shaw's secret to longevity may lie in the attention he paid to his health at an early age, say friends and colleagues. He is known to regularly consumed expensive ginseng, costing him close to HK$300,000 a year.

The centenarian also follows a strict daily routine, waking up at 5am and going for an hour's walk around the neighborhood, followed by a session of qigong - an aspect of traditional Chinese medicine involving the coordination of different breathing patterns with various physical postures and motions of the body, mostly for health maintenance purposes.

His neighbours often see Shaw walking on the slopes with ease.

"He has years of experience in qigong, and he also tells his workers to exercise more frequently and to strengthen themselves," said TVB executive Virginia Lok Yi-ling.

"Mona Fong has even hired a qigong master to teach us. In recent years, when I travel with Sir Run Run, he would teach me ways to relax my legs and relax the muscle."

The health of the media tycoon came under intense public scrutiny after he was admitted to hospital in late July last year for what was reported to be pneumonia, sparking rumors that a change at the helm of the Shaw empire was imminent.

At the time, many worried that he might not make it to his 99th birthday. However, he was discharged from hospital soon after, and in true showman style, was caught by paparazzi enjoying high tea at the Island Shangri-La and The Peninsula, as well as dining at a Japanese restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.

"Luk Suk would always attend the board meeting held every two weeks," said a former TVB executive.

"He would only sit quietly and listen, but everyone would be very attentive and serious."

TVB general manager Stephen Chan Chi-wan thinks he knows the real secret of his boss' longevity - it's his lighthearted and humorous approach to life.

The one person who can keep Shaw in stitches is Mr Bean, the likeable buffoon character played by British actor Rowan Atkinson in TV and big- screen comedy productions.

"[Shaw] enjoys watching Mr Bean very much," Chan reveals. "Not only that, but he also collects calligraphy which he would show to everyone from time to time."  -   2007 October 6    HONG KONG STANDARD

Shaw Brothers sells ex- Singapura Theatre site for $44.9 mln

Shaw Brothers Limited has decided to sell the landmark former Singapura Theatre site on No 55 Changi Road to a consortium for $44.9 million or $768 per square foot of potential gross floor area. No development charge is payable for the freehold site, which is zoned for commercial use with a 3.0 plot ratio under Master Plan 2008.   - 2010   November      BUSINESS TIMES

Run Run decides to retire in his 100th year

Television Broadcasts (0511) executive chairman Run Run Shaw is planning to retire and is looking for a replacement, the company's deputy chairman said Wednesday.

Mona Fong Yat-wah, however, declined to comment on whether Shaw will sell his stake in the company.

Fong did not elaborate further on Shaw's retirement plans.

Shaw, affectionately known as Luk Suk (Uncle Six), controls a 32.49 percent stake in TVB, Hong Kong's dominant free-to-air television broadcaster, partly through his 74.6 percent stake in film studio Shaw Brothers (0080).

Shaw Brothers had said earlier that several parties had shown interest in acquiring stakes in the studio but the company reiterated that Shaw, who will turn 100 in October, has no plans to sell his share.

Meanwhile, TVB said it aims to turn around its 49 percent owned pay TV business Pay Vision in three years.

"Three years are possible [to turnaround], it's a reasonable projection as a stake owner," Mark Li Po-on, TVB's general manager, finance and administration, told reporters after the company's annual general meeting Wednesday.

Pay Vision, one of the four pay-TV operators in Hong Kong, brought a loss of HK$163 million to TVB last year, compared to a loss of HK$187 million shouldered by TVB in 2005.

"The loss we shared has been shrinking and I believe the result will continue to improve in 2007 and 2008," Li said.

TVB reported a net profit of HK$1.1 billion last year with turnover amounting to HK$4.1 billion.

Both net profit and turnover edged up 1 percent compared to a year ago. TVB also plans to splash out HK$700 million on digital broadcast services in Hong Kong, of which HK$400 million to HK$500 million will be booked in 2007, Li said.

The SAR government requires the city's two TV stations to offer the services by the end of this year.

"I think the government will announce further details on the digital standard in the coming two weeks," said assistant managing director George Chan Ching-cheong.

Chan said the company will complete the construction of a transmitter at Tsz Wan Shan by year end, with coverage of more than 50 percent of Hong Kong.

Digital broadcasting would involve high costs but the company could withstand these.

TVB will launch a new channel for "high definition programs" while its smaller rival Asia Television will open four new channels by year-end, covering commercial news, cultural lifestyle, TV shopping and English-language entertainment and education.

TVB shares closed Wednesday up 0.56 percent at HK$53.80.   THE STANDARD  31 May 2007

Back in the Picture

The gray dust of construction clinging to his shoes, Lloyd Chao leads a visitor through one of the cavernous sound stages in the new Shaw Studios production complex, perched on a windy hillside in Hong Kong. In its heyday Shaw Bros. churned out hundreds of films for Chinese-language audiences around the world, leading an industry that, by the mid-1980s, made a city of 6 million the world's third biggest movie producer. That's when Shaw began to phase out film production in favor of TV. Though other studios filled the gap for a while, Hong Kong, which had made 234 movies in 1993, produced only 64 last year. That makes the very existence of Shaw's high-tech cinematic playground, which is scheduled to fully open in half a year, a surprise in itself. But to Chao, a Hong Kong native who joined the project 10 months ago, Shaw Studios is a $180 million vote of confidence that the industry still has life. "The Hong Kong film industry is going to come back, but in a different way," he says. "It just has to evolve."

Evolve is something much of the industry has failed to do. Piracy, video and aggressive foreign competition eroded the market for the city's movies, while its once kinetic style grew stale. Yet even as Hong Kong struggles through creative and financial doldrums, Chinese-language cinema is poised to take off—as the increasingly mainland-oriented Hong Kong International Film Festival will demonstrate when it opens this week. Chinese films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers have earned world-class box office, while the gradual liberalization of the mainland market means the demand for Chinese-language movies is only going to grow. If Hong Kong's smartest producers can leverage the city's international financial networks, China experience and stable of stars, then it could defend its position as the beating heart of Chinese cinema. "There are tremendous challenges and tremendous opportunities," says Nansun Shi, one of Hong Kong's most respected producers. "We're at a crossroads and we need to get this right, in a very short time."

Since the postwar years, Hong Kong had a virtual monopoly on producing entertainment for the entire Chinese-speaking world. All that changed in 1997. The Asian financial crisis dried up film financing and permanently damaged the city's vital Asian markets; those of some countries, like Indonesia's, have never recovered. The introduction of VCDs and DVDs, legitimate and not, ate into box office. Fewer Asians were willing to shell out $7 to watch a Hong Kong film with sub-Hollywood production values when they could cheaply get their fix at home. With box office disappearing, the only sure money in moviemaking came from video rights, which meant an increasing number of films were made with a VCD expressly in mind—not a formula for cinematic greatness. "Videos are like drugs to us," says Peter Chan, a director and head of independent film company Applause Pictures. "You can't get off them, because it's the only way to make money off a film, but it's killing theatrical."

Faced with shrinking revenue and investment, the Hong Kong film industry responded as threatened industries often do—it forgot how it became successful in the first place. Gone was the freewheeling spirit that fueled the creativity of the '80s and produced international icons like Jackie Chan. There were exceptions, but too many Hong Kong filmmakers began to churn out timid, formulaic comedies with the same old stars. Audiences flocked instead to the high-budget Hollywood event movies that are increasingly pitched at international audiences, and to films from Asian nations like South Korea, where young directors weaned on John Woo are making the kinds of dynamic movies Hong Kong used to produce. "The export value of Hong Kong film is deteriorating," says Peter Tsi, executive director of the city's film festival. "It's a little bit pathetic that if we're talking about Hong Kong stars, we're still talking about Andy Lau." But few new talents have surfaced. (The Actor in Focus at this year's festival: Andy Lau.)

While Hong Kong-made cinema was forgetting how to make money, mainland movies were striking box-office gold. Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers all proved that there's undoubted demand for good Chinese movies in Asia and beyond. But here's the hope for Hong Kong: even though each of those films were shot in the mainland with Chinese directors, they never would have been made without Hong Kong. Most of the films' stars hail from the city, and all of the movies were co-productions with Hong Kong companies that had experience in making commercial films and marketing them internationally. "China lacks all of the things Hong Kong is good at," says Shi. "We have the intellectual, legal and branding knowledge, the marketing and packaging and networking ability."

China needs Hong Kong. But—in film as in other industries—it may not need it forever. So the city has to capitalize on its status as a global financial hub immediately.

One positive sign is this week's Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, which matches promising movie projects with investors. Organizers expected 150 submissions—and received 280 from around the region. "Hong Kong can really develop its status as a film-financing center for Asia," says Raymond Yip, director of service promotion at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which organized the forum. One challenge will be getting Hong Kong's banking sector involved in film financing. The button-down banks have long been leery of the flamboyant film industry, but they've shown increasing interest.

Across the border, the mainland is finally beginning to offer Hong Kong what the city has always lacked: a large, domestic market for its films. New cinemas are being built in China every day; the mainland box-office market increased by 50% from 2003 to 2004 alone, to $180 million. Piracy remains a concern, but the fact that a pair of co-productions this past December—A World Without Thieves and Kung Fu Hustle—were able to clean up at the box office shows that movies can make real money in China. "This is the only film market in the world where the economy is growing, where there are more people with more disposable income every day," says Shi.

Hong Kong filmmakers know the promise China holds, but making a movie that works in the mainland and in Hong Kong is no easy task. One man who figured out how to straddle the border is Hong Kong's Stephen Chow, whose Kung Fu Hustle took in $20 million on the mainland and a record $8 million at home, and is on a pace for $100 million globally. It's tough to copy Chow's style, but his film may provide a blueprint for a changing industry. Shot in China with a cast and crew that was mostly from Hong Kong, and with Columbia Pictures on board as a co-producer, Kung Fu Hustle had the budget, the star and the story to cross borders. In a globalized film market, that's what it's going to take to be successful. "You have to know how to make an international film," says Shi.

So from being the Hollywood of the Asian film world, Hong Kong may become its New York, the place where deals are done and money is raised. The decline in movies made in and about Hong Kong is unlikely to be reversed—which has some producers wondering why Shaw Bros. is building a $180 million film studio. But Lloyd Chao believes that studio's cutting-edge facilities will be perfect for high-profile projects from around Asia, including China. "It's going to be about quality, not quantity," he says. Still, Hong Kong—and international moviegoers—will lose something when the old system dies, as Peter Chan knows. Chan, who built his name by making indie Hong Kong movies, has just shot a $10 million Mandarin musical set in Beijing and Shanghai and co-produced by the Hollywood backer of Million Dollar Baby. The film could be bigger than anything Chan has ever done, but part of him misses the way things used to be. "Hong Kong culture will inevitably be gone one day," Chan says. "That's why it's important for me to still make small Hong Kong films. If you make something, it stays on celluloid forever. Like a memory." -   From the Mar. 28, 2005 issue of TIME Asia Magazine

Shaw Bros to revive movie production

Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) aims to return to positive earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (Ebita) for the year ending March 2005, as it plans to revive film production.

``Once we revive the film production, we should be able to show a positive Ebita in 2005,'' executive director Louis Page said after yesterday's annual general meeting.

Page said the company saw signs of recovery and would restart film production in the coming year.

Page, also the managing director of Run Run Shaw's Television Broadcasts (TVB), said the free-to-air broadcaster's advertising revenue recorded a single-digit year-on-year growth in August.

As a result of the expansion in the scale of the Movie City project, Shaw Brothers total capital cost was estimated to be HK$950 million, and the company's commitment HK$332.5 million.

For the year ended March, Shaw Brothers posted an operating loss of HK$9.89 million, against a loss of HK$7.71 million, mainly due to the production overheads, Page said.

Managing director Mona Fong said Shaw Brothers was planning to make two action movies starring young pop stars in the near future.

Page said Shaw Brothers did not have any privatisation plans.

Shaw Brothers reported a net profit of HK$143 million for the year ended March 31 as turnover fell to HK$62.44 million from HK$72.48 million. A final dividend of 20 cents per share was declared.

During the fiscal year, TVB contributed HK$176.35 million to Shaw Brothers, the company said.

Shares of Shaw Brothers rose 1.266 per cent to HK$8 yesterday.   - by Anthony Tran     22 September 2003    HONGKONG STANDARD 

FAR EAST ECONOMIC REVIEW article

GOOD OLD AUNTIE QI is facing the challenge of her life. There's a mob of villagers banging on her door and her own children have turned against her. "One has to bear the consequences of what one has done," declares the kindly matron as a throng storms into her living room. Could it be curtains for the old lady?

Maybe. It's an upcoming plot twist in Virtues of Harmony, a successful, two-and-a-half-month-old situation comedy now being aired on Television Broadcasts, or TVB, Hong Kong's powerhouse TV station and one of the leading Chinese-language broadcasters in the world.

In a case of life imitating art, there's also a real-life drama unfolding over at TVB itself. Like the sitcom, the company is facing the challenge of its life, but here, too, the final episode hasn't been aired yet. At stake is TVB's long-term future. Can the company grow into a Chinese media giant that could become Asia's answer to Disney or Time Warner? Or will it become just another local television station in Hong Kong's smallish broadcast market, a perennial re-run in investors' eyes and maybe even a takeover target once ageing patriarch Run Run Shaw passes from the scene.

Over the past 34 years, TVB has grown fat from a virtual monopoly of Hong Kong's television market-a mature market with few growth prospects and declining TV viewership. Despite owning one of the biggest Chinese-language programming libraries in the world and boasting a fantastic roster of Hong Kong's hottest stars, TVB has failed to grow beyond its home base or even explore other media markets outside basic television production.

"The problem is that TVB is a great company on paper, and historically it has generated strong cash flow and has great Chinese-language content," says Vivek Couto, an analyst at Media Partners Asia, a Hong Kong-based media-research company. "But they just haven't been able to leverage any of their strengths."

Indeed. Despite its dominance, TVB boasts few of the potential synergies being explored by the big American media conglomerates who have entire divisions dedicated to merchandising their creations through films, music, books, broadcasting, cable, videos and toys. Its planned Hong Kong pay-TV operation looks in doubt, while its dotcom and publishing ventures are feeble. It has no merger or acquisition plans and there is very little cooperation with the Shaw Brothers film studio, TVB's own sister company. In short, critics say, the company lacks strategy and vision and is just a little too smug for its own good.

To be fair, it's tough to argue with success. The company has a commanding 80% share of Hong Kong's television market. And even during the Asian economic crisis and this year's crushing downturn, TVB has been consistently profitable year after year. "What exactly have we done wrong?" asks TVB Managing Director Louis Page. "Where exactly have we gone astray? We have held on to what we have and we are trying to expand our market share overseas."

For almost a decade, the broadcaster has been trying to carve out a niche in Overseas Chinese markets-but with only modest success so far. The reasons are manifold, but in general the company has not been able to replicate the one thing it does best: producing cheap, commercially profitable and highly engaging television dramas. Outside Hong Kong, TVB is like a fish out of water- it does not have the market dominance it needs and is just another broadcaster in crowded, overseas cable-television markets.

In 1993, it launched the TVBS cable network in Taiwan, which it has since expanded to Southeast Asia. And in the past decade it began direct-to-home satellite transmissions of its shows to the Chinese diaspora in North America, Europe and Australia.

True, the TVBS network has managed to eke out a small operating profit in three of the past four years. But the island's television market remains ferociously competitive- each of Taiwan's 4.5 million households with cable receives 70 channels on average while roughly half of all television advertising still goes to the island's four terrestrial broadcasters. That means even in good years, the pickings are slim. With Taiwan's economy in recession, there were no profits last year and maybe there will be none this year.

COSTLY START-UPS
TVB's efforts to tap into the Chinatowns of America, Europe and Australia have been costly. Rather than go through established cable operators in those countries, TVB has been setting up its own direct-to-home satellite system which carries with it expensive start-up costs.

But the company is really betting on southern China, specifically Guangdong province just north of Hong Kong with its 80-million-strong Cantonese-speaking population. If TVB can get permission to broadcast its shows in China-where media control is still a politically touchy subject-the company will hit solid gold, possibly doubling profits overnight and leaving foreign media rivals in the dust. Of course, that's still a big "if." No one can predict when China will open its tightly controlled, and potentially lucrative, media sector to foreign rivals. And many supposedly savvy regional broadcasters have called it wrong on China for years. Hong Kong-based broadcaster STAR, for example, has waited for almost 10 years to gain unfettered access into the mainland market.

Still, there's reason to be optimistic. In the past three months, Beijing has given the nod to several foreign broadcasters-in November, TVB itself inked a joint-venture deal to begin producing television programmes with a subsidiary of national broadcaster China Central Television. Britain's Pearson Group signed a similar deal the same month, while in October media giant AOL Time Warner and Hong Kong-based Phoenix channel were granted new broadcasting rights in Guangdong. In December, News Corp. affiliate STAR was also given permission to broadcast in the province legally. Given that the AOL Time Warner, Phoenix and STAR channels combined claim less than 5% of the television audience in the province, the deals are more significant on paper than in reality. Nonetheless, the tone is encouraging.

"All the signals are that China is getting ready to lift restrictions. We can definitely see the direction," says Marcel Fenez, regional head of the entertainment and media practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong. "If you had asked me three years ago I would not have predicted when China would start opening up. But now, in my view, China's media sector may open up in the next three years or so."

When it comes to Cantonese-language programming, TVB is a monster. Since it began operations in 1967, the company has amassed a vast, 50,000-hour programming library-enough programming to broadcast continuously for five and-a-half years, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Each year, it produces another 6,000 hours of programming. It is arguably the largest television producer in East Asia outside Japan, and the largest in the Chinese-speaking world.

From Malaysia to Australia to Canada, wherever there are Overseas Chinese communities TVB serials can be seen on local channels, picked off the shelf in local video stores or bought by the batch in Southeast Asia's night markets. "Our goal is to put our programming into every Chinese household in the world," says TVB's Page. "Distribution systems are expanding-whether it be satellite, cable, broadband-and we have the content."

In Hong Kong, TVB is as close to a cultural icon as anything. Over the years, TVB has produced shows to match the life and times of Hong Kong families and created local stars in the process. In the 1980s, as Hong Kong businessmen were increasingly travelling to southern China and taking mistresses in Guangdong province, TVB produced family dramas pitting a businessman's legitimate family against his illegitimate one.

It also adapted many of Louis Cha's kung-fu novels to the small screen, in the process launching the career of Hong Kong heart-throb Andy Lau. Its classic 1980s gangster drama Shanghai Beach made Chow Yun Fat a household name. "TVB is an institution," says Sanney Leung, editor of Hong Kong Entertainment News in Review, a Web site focusing on the Hong Kong media industry. "There is a saying: 'Where there are Chinese, there is Louis Cha.' Well, I would add: 'Where there are Chinese, there is TVB'."

But the secret to TVB's success belies the carefully cultivated glamorous image it projects on screen. Behind the scenes, TVB is a gruelling, work-a-day production factory where the hours are long, the work is hard, and the pay is low. The quid pro quo is that TVB can make people famous. With its 80% share of Hong Kong's television audience, the company is the best-perhaps only-path to fame in a city which remains very much the centre of the Chinese media world.

"TVB has the golden finger: if they point it at an artist, that person will become popular," says Nick Cheung, assistant editor-in-chief of entertainment for Apple Daily. "In general, its employees don't think it's a good company. But what the artists can get there is fame. So after a few years they will leave TVB to earn money. TVB can provide the fame, but not the money." In fact, TVB's celebrity-making machine is so powerful that it's not just newcomers who flock to the station. Even movie veterans who have faded from the limelight will sometimes return to TVB to rejuvenate flagging careers. Veteran actress Nancy Sit-who plays Auntie Qi in Virtues of Harmony-is one example. There are others.

"The upcoming artists, they definitely want to start with TVB. Then afterwards they leave TVB and go to movies. But sometimes it's the other way around. The artists will start in the movies but aren't that well known, so they go to TVB to get more exposure," explains Anne Ling, an analyst at HSBC in Hong Kong.

The company is coy about its programming costs, but it's not hard to guess. In America, a typical one-hour television production costs somewhere over $1 million to produce-the normal range might be between $1.2 million and $1.6 million-and a hit show like ER costs over $2 million to produce. As a rule, two-thirds or more of the production cost is made up of salaries, with the biggest chunk going to actors, writers and producers. In the U.S., an average salary for a first-year actor in a successful daytime drama could be $8,000 a month.

At TVB, starting salaries for actors and actresses begin at around HK$10,000 ($1,282) a month, or even less. Stars with drawing power might take home double that, or about HK$20,000 a month. The work schedule is tough and usually, after three or four years with the company, actors and actresses will leave and seek out better deals in movies, in Taiwan, in Singapore or even in China.

CLEAR HEAD START

From a bookkeeper's point of view, TVB has a huge advantage when it comes to broadcasting in China, at least in southern China. Where News Corp., STAR and AOL Time Warner all need to acquire or produce Chinese-language programming from scratch, TVB already has the stars and is already producing the hit dramas, sitcoms and variety shows that make up the rich marrow of prime-time television. What's more, those shows are already paid for and profitable, thanks to TVB's roughly 80% grip on Hong Kong's $1.7 billion a year television-advertising market.

In fact, TVB is already being broadcast in southern China illegally. Local cable operators in Guangdong pick up TVB's terrestrial signals and rebroadcast its shows to cable subscribers in the province. The problem is that the cable operators snip out the TV commercials broadcast in Hong Kong and insert their own ads instead. And because TVB does not yet have legal permission to broadcast in China, there's not much it can do to complain. But when it does, TVB will be laughing all the way to the bank. It already dominates the Guangdong market-it is consistently the No. 1 rated channel in the province, and in any given week will boast five or six of the top-10 shows broadcast.

According to AC Nielsen, Guangdong's television advertising market is worth about $950 million a year, just over half the size of Hong Kong's TV ad market. With around a 30% market share, TVB could potentially pull in an extra $285 million a year if it was allowed to broadcast in southern China. Even the most conservative estimates put the size of the windfall between $40 million and $50 million. Compared with expected profits of $76 million this year, the potential is enormous.

"It's all going to happen over the next two to three years. It's only a question of time before we are able to make money off our programming in China," says TVB's Page. "This whole business is about content and we have the content. Guangdong is hooked on TVB." Stay tuned.

END OF AN ERA

He has spent a lifetime in show business, but TVB Executive Chairman Run Run Shaw tends to avoid centre stage. No one can remember when he last granted an interview. There are no official biographies of him. That's a pity, because Shaw's life makes for a fascinating storyline. In his 94 years, he has lived more than most men: he has been knighted, widowed, had a planet named after him, given away over HK$1 billion ($128 million) in charity and built a personal fortune estimated at somewhere around HK$8 billion.

Like the founders of other media empires-take Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner or Steve Ross-Shaw is a larger-than-life figure. And that's the curious thing about media empires around the world: They tend to be the creation of charismatic founders but frequently stumble after the passing of the "great man" who created them. CNN has not been the same since Ted Turner sold out and there's a succession question lingering over News Corp. when Murdoch passes from the scene.

Shaw says he's ready to retire, but he won't say when. His wife, 67 year-old former singer Mona Fong is currently deputy chairman of TVB's board and Shaw's expected successor. But who will follow her? "Of course there is a succession issue now that he is 94 years old. Mona Fong is 67 years old, will she run TVB for a few years and then sell?" asks Anne Ling, an analyst at HSBC in Hong Kong. Who would buy it? Technically, Hong Kong prohibits foreigners from owning more than a 10% stake in a television station. But that rule could be flexible. In the past, both Rupert Murdoch and Singapore Press Holdings have been seen as possible buyers of  TVB. Others speculate that TVB could be bought out by one of Hong Kong's other conglomerates, such as Cheung Kong or New World Development.  - 2002      FAR EAST ECONOMIC REVIEW

Asian TV Deal Collapses Amid Credit Turmoil

HONG KONG -- Roiled financial markets claimed another deal in Asia, as the company that controls Hong Kong's biggest television broadcaster canceled the planned sale of a controlling stake, citing "the present tumultuous situation."

The collapse of the sale of a stake in Shaw Brothers Ltd., valued at around 10 billion Hong Kong dollars (US$1.29 billion) when announced in May, reflects the extent to which Asia is affected by the credit turmoil sweeping most of the Western world. While Asian corporations haven't piled on debt in recent years like their Western counterparts, a sharp downturn in stock prices and jitters among lenders has shut the financial spigot for deals.

Shaw Brothers owns 26% of Hong Kong's dominant free-to-air television broadcaster, Television Broadcasts Ltd., whose business has posted sturdy growth on the mainland. The deal would have represented a final farewell between 101-year-old media mogul Sir Run Run Shaw and his remaining piece of the empire he built.

Shaw Brothers didn't mention any prospective buyers, but Chinese property company Country Garden Holdings Co. was previously a leading contender to purchase Sir Run Run's stake. To help finance the acquisition, Country Garden Chairman Yeung Kwok Keung had arranged for a HK$3 billion loan from Hong Kong property tycoon Lee Shau-kee.

Since the plans for the Shaw stake sale were announced in the spring, Country Garden has had a slump in earnings that has pounded its Hong Kong-listed shares. During the first six months of the year, Country Garden's earnings fell 28.5% to 6.03 billion Chinese yuan (US$882.2 million). Its shares, which touched a high of HK$14 this time last year, closed down 2.9% at HK$1.99 on Tuesday. Representatives of Country Garden couldn't be reached for comment.

Property developers in China have been hurt by a slowdown in Chinese real estate and government efforts to tamp down excessive investment in the sector.

Country Garden wasn't the only entity thought to be interested in purchasing control of Shaw. The deal had also attracted the attention of private-equity funds, which saw the company as a lush target because of its stake in TVB. Another possible buyer hasn't materialized, keeping Shaw Brothers in the hands of its aged chairman.   - 2008 October 15   WALL ST. JOURNAL

 


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