Businessman Brings Chinese TV to US

WITHIN six months, audiences across the United States will be able to watch the adventures of Manka, a monkey who travels around the world, courtesy of Shanghai TV. Fairy tales about the clever monkey king are a favorite of most Chinese children and are being brought to the US by Ralph Miller, a San Francisco entrepreneur and executive producer of video and television programming.

Shanghai audiences, meanwhile, will see Beatrix Potter's ``Peter Rabbit'' stories in Mandarin, the official language.

``The children's material is a first of its kind of exchange,'' Mr. Miller says. ``Children's programming will gain in volume in a few years. They're universal stories, nothing offensive and easy for everyone to identify with. Children are the world's common bond. The first word most Chinese learn is `Ma,' just like kids here.''

According to Miller, there is some reticence among Chinese officials to promote children's material; they don't think it's serious enough.

Miller began this enterprise in January 1988. Within a year, it was profitable. He is now working on three TV specials: a 40th Anniversary Special commemorating the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Asian Games of 1990, and a seven-part series about a Chinese family.

Moreover, he is putting together a group of government-owned TV stations around China for easy distribution of American programs and ads. He even has ambitions for establishing an independent second TV network in China.

``I'm in this for money and altruistic reasons,'' says the enthusiastic businessman.

MILLER makes money from selling advertisements from American companies on programs that air in China. He provides the programs at low cost or on a barter basis as long as the Chinese carry the ads. Similarly, he will take a commission on ads accompanying Chinese programs on American TV.

Chinese stations place a foreign tax on TV ads, usually about $6,000, to earn foreign exchange.

Shanghai TV, which produced ``Manka,'' can sell any of its programs to any station in China or America for profit. But Miller hammered out a formal agreement that guarantees total exclusivity for material he chooses from four regional TV stations he has put together as a consortium. The copyright issue was a sticky point in negotiating a contract, since China Central TV may distribute any program produced by a regional station.

Miller will distribute ``Manka'' in the United States through a satellite feed from GN Communications in Chicago, a syndicator that arranges distribution on PBS affiliates nationwide.

So far, Miller has agreements with four TV stations in Dalian, a northern river port city; Quangshi in southern China; Chengdu in Sichuan; and Shanghai. He is also talking to stations in Harbin and Lanzhou.

About 80 percent of China's 1 billion people are reached by TV.

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