Door slams on top Chinese search engines

And other news in Greater China

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Door slams on top Chinese search engines
BEIJING--Chinese internet portals Sina.com and Sohu.com are believed to have fallen afoul of China's internet censors, with their search engines inaccessible on Monday.

Although the front pages from both sites were available and its sections could be accessed by through links, neither site's search function was working when tested from computers in Beijing. Both sites transferred to pages that indicated the system was searching, but then hung up and did not display any data or search results. Other portal sites, including Tom.com and Google's Chinese site, Google.cn, were not affected. Local sources suggest Sina and Sohu somehow flouted China's internet content rules, which prohibit pornography, graphic violence, and politically sensitive material.

"Advertisers are ultimately the hardest hit by these outages. People forget that ad campaigns are time-critical. A day lost from a search-ad campaign hurts business, and makes advertisers more hesitant to use search ads next time," said David Wolf, CEO of Wolf Group Asia, a Beijing-based technology and media consultancy. "If these outages become regular, portals will lose advertisers and users, and a growing number of users will seek solutions beyond the Great Firewall."

Neither Sina nor Sohu could be reached for comment. Of late, foreign internet companies have been more likely targets of Chinese censors than local portals. Google's English site was blocked for most of five days around June 4, despite caving in to government pressure and creating Google.cn, which provides more limited results than its .com counterpart. Microsoft's Hotmail has also suffered occasional service outages. China's government routinely doesn't comment on such blockings and other measures, and the companies targeted usually blame routine system upgrades or decline to comment.


McDonald's pumps up drive-thru strategy in China with Sinopec partnership
BEIJING--Just six months after opening its first drive-thru in mainland China, McDonald’s has brokered a deal with state-owned China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) to develop drive-thrus at the oil giant’s gas stations in China, where car ownership is growing quickly.

Sinopec currently operate 30,000 service stations in China, serving millions of consumers each day, and it opens another 500 new sites on average annually. With almost six million automobile sales last year, China has surpassed Japan and is now second only to the U.S. in annual car sales, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The market is expecting to grow 10 to 15% in 2006, particularly in prosperous urban areas like southern China and Shanghai.

McDonald’s and Sinopec, both of which are Olympic sponsors in 2008, said the alliance “will strengthen the sales and service of Sinopec’s non-oil products and accelerate the development of McDonald’s drive-thru restaurants across China. [The partnership] could have a significant, far-reaching impact on the development and strategic growth of their businesses.”

McDonald’s outlets will be developed in medium and large cities across China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan, Chengdu, Shenzhen and Dongguan. Since new management took over operations in China last summer, the number of McDonald’s stores there has risen from 670 to 760, keeping the company on target to have at least 1,000 outlets there by the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. However, it still falls well behind Yum Brands’ KFC chain, China’s fast food leader with about 1,600 restaurants.


Meredith launches Better Homes and Gardens
HONG KONG--Meredith Corp. has launched a Chinese-language edition of Better Homes and Gardens through a joint venture with a Chinese company, SEEC Media Group. It will be marketed to middle-class families in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, blending “American flavor” and “local Chinese taste," according to Meredith Chairman-CEO William Kerr. The edition will run original content with material from its parent title.

Based in Hong Kong, SEEC Media mainly publishes financial and trade titles in China, including an influential financial magazine, Caijing, as well as New Real Estate Magazine and Securities Market Weekly, but is eagerly expanding into non-financial publications: "There is a tremendous demand for home and family related information in China," said SEEC Chairman Wang Boming, “driven by robust economic growth and accumulation of wealth."


MTV takes H-P-sponsored reality show to Asia
BEIJING-- Viacom’s MTV Networks will produce local episodes of its “MTV Meet or Delete” reality show in four Asia/Pacific countries this summer, including China, with sponsorship from Hewlett-Packard’s personal computer business as a component of its global marketing campaign. An HP graphic symbol from its advertising will be incorporated into each episode.

“PCs have become the emotional hard drive of our global audience, making the premise of ‘Meet or Delete’ relevant everywhere in the world,” said Michael Wolf, MTV’s president and COO.

The show follows college students as they size each other up and decide if they’d like to meet, based solely on the contents of their PC hard drives. The other versions will be produced in India, South Korea and Australia. The series debuted in the U.S. last month.

In each series, a student is given unlimited access to the computers--including e-mail, music playlists, pictures, recently-visited web sites, video files, IMs with their friends--of three prospects he or she has never met. Candidates will be recruited through on-air programming, web sites, and flyers distributed in the major Chinese universities. Filming will take place throughout August in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Ten episodes will be telecast, the first six will be produced in the U.S. and aired with Chinese subtitles. while the last four will be locally-produced in Mandarin.

The series will utilize MTV’s assets in China including its MTV China pay-TV channel available in Hong Kong and Guangdong, limited MTV broadcasts on China Central Television, the country’s Beijing-based national broadcaster, MTVChina.com and MTV’s wireless partner y China Mobile, which formed an alliance with MTV last year. A micro site on MTVChina.com will give viewers access to previous episodes, unseen footage, interactive games, free music downloads and cast member information.


Chinese piracy costs studios $2.7 billion
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Hollywood film studios lost $6.1 billion to piracy in 2005, of which $2.7 billion was caused by pirates in China, according to a study for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) by LEK Consulting. About $2.4 billion was lost to bootlegging, $1.4 to illegal copying and $2.3 billion to Internet piracy. Of the total lost revenue to the studios, $1.3 billion came from piracy in the U.S. and $4.8 billion internationally, with nearly half of that loss occurring in Europe. The countries where movie piracy occurs most prominently are China, Russia, U.K., France, Spain, Brazil, Italy, Poland and Mexico.


Disney rival Ocean Park appoints WE Marketing
HONG KONG--Ocean Park, a Hong Kong institution featuring theme park rides alongside dolphin shows and cable cars trips, has appointed WE Marketing Group to handle its brand planning and creative business for thematic advertising, events, products and tactical promotions in Hong Kong and overseas.

The win follows a pitch against about several agencies including JWT, McCann Erickson, DDB Worldwide and Publicis Worldwide. Previously the account was with Grey Global Group’s Hong Kong office, although WE has handled some assignments in recent months on a project basis. Grey’s MediaCom continues to handle media buying.

WE will position Ocean Park as a destination for visitors to Hong Kong, particularly mainland Chinese, while reinforcing its appeal in the local market, particularly after last September’s well-publicized launch of Hong Kong Disneyland, a joint venture between the Walt Disney Co. and Hong Kong’s government.

But in the past year, Ocean Park’s visitors have increased, despite speculation early on that Disney’s arrival spelled doom for the 29-year-old park. Its survival was aided by its new rival’s rough start, however. Visitors have complained that the newest Disney park is too small, has too few rides and lines are too long, issues compounded by ticketing and marketing missteps.

Under the direction of Allan Zeman, Ocean Park’s chairman and one of Hong Kong’s most successful restauranteurs, the park is undergoing a transformation into a world-class family park for sea animals and mammals, at a cost of $700 million through 2010. By late May, the park had already surpassed last year’s annual attendance record of 4.03 million visitors, making it the world's seventh most popular amusement park according to a survey in Forbes, compared to Disney’s projected 5.6 million visitors this year.


Contributing: Steven Schwankert in Beijing
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