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Politics

Internet is hurting China's state-run old media

Communist Party outlets losing audience to online rivals

China Central Television, headquartered in this building in Beijing, has seen its ratings drop 30% from its peak. (Getty Images)

BEIJING -- China has long supported the domestic internet tech industry as a key to growth, but this policy is now creating a headache -- The more people get news from online sources, the less influence state-run media wields over the public.

After roughly 15 years working for China Central Television, one Beijing resident in his 40s decided to call it quits. "Over the years, I have lost a sense of fulfillment, and on top of that, my pay decreased to a third of what it used to be," he said. The man went on to land a new job at a major internet firm.

China Central Television, or CCTV, is a state-run network that receives over 200 applications for every position available. It is said that most of the country used to tune in every 7:00 p.m. to watch Xinwen Lianbo, the news program produced by the company.

The former CCTV employee said he used to enjoy his job, which came with a high salary and two annual trips as part of the remuneration package. But then the network's overall ratings started tapering in the late 2000s, with last year's numbers falling to roughly 30% below the peak.

Unable to command the same amount of advertising revenue, CCTV slashed salaries. In addition, the scope of subjects he was allowed to report was also narrowed, pushing him to retire. He also noted that many former colleagues ended up at Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings and other Chinese tech giants.

Just as e-commerce giants have forced brick-and-mortar retail outlets to close in the West, Chinese online businesses are driving out old guards. The media industry is no exception. One estimate shows TV ad revenues shrank since hitting 110 billion yuan ($16.5 billion) in 2013. Net ad revenues overtook those for TV in 2014, and online ad sales are set to rise to nearly triple the amount of TV ad sales next year.

The newspaper industry has also faced a similar challenge. There were 1,894 papers in circulation in China last year, down 34 over a five-year period, according to official data. One survey suggests that over 70% of Chinese newspaper companies were in the red at the end of 2015.

One man in his 20s used to work for the Beijing Youth Daily, the official newspaper for the politically influential Communist Youth League. He departed for an internet company two years ago. "The media's standing is not as high as it used to be," he said.

Although the government continues to censor information, Chinese websurfers today can access information on a wide spectrum of topics. That has resulted in a large following in celebrity gossip and other entertainment news. People are meanwhile turning their backs on state media.

Because the state-run media serves as mouthpieces for the ruling Communist Party, the power structure has much to lose from the waning influence of those outlets. Recently, the party started forcing online platforms to run officially-sanctioned news pieces at the top of pages, as well as co-opting video games to promote the government's agenda.

But what the party really needs to worry about perhaps is that people see through old-guard news reporting, which only shows what officials want the public to see.

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