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Elmo meets his Mandarin cousins

General Electric and the Children's Television Network have hooked up to create a series of educational spots that will air at the beginning and end of Zhima Jie, the Chinese co-production of Sesame Street. 39 of the 30-second 'It's Time to...
August 1, 1998

General Electric and the Children’s Television Network have hooked up to create a series of educational spots that will air at the beginning and end of Zhima Jie, the Chinese co-production of Sesame Street. 39 of the 30-second ‘It’s Time to Discover’ TV spots are currently running, with another 60 slated for development by the end of the year.

David Jacobs, CTW’s regional VP for Asia and Latin America, says that TV production is actually quite easy in China these days-the problem lies in promoting it. ‘Despite the hiccup of the Asia crisis, a fundamental change has occurred in the Chinese broadcasting market. TV has become a business, but China is very much a developing market when it comes to promotions.’

The lack of a solid marketing infrastructure forces promoters to develop more creative campaign strategies. ‘The good news is that, in many cases, you can write your own rules,’ says Jacobs. ‘The types of venues that we use in the U.S. to do promotions either don’t exist in China, or they are just starting to evolve. For example, there are virtually no on-air promotions, so you come to rely much more heavily on special events.’

To launch Zhima Jie in February, CTW organized a media event in the city of Shanghai to introduce the new show’s characters. Over 500 people showed up to watch the introduction of Elmo, the English-speaking spokespuppet of Sesame Street, to his Mandarin-speaking counterparts. ‘When we tour the characters in the U.S., people don’t get as excited because they are used to seeing them on TV,’ says Jacobs. ‘But in China, it’s so new and unique that it draws crowds. The ability to do special events, although sometimes technically difficult, is something we were able to capitalize on in a big way to promote Zhima Jie.’

The Chinese characters are similar to the classic Sesame Street figures in terms of physical appearance, but they differ in a very fundamental way says Jacobs. ‘In design meetings, the Chinese expressed a very strong desire to focus on aesthetics in the show’s curriculum. So we developed storylines around a character that spends a lot of time talking about opera and the art. That focus was unique to this particular co-production.’

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