The Chinese Women's Soccer Game That Never Finished

(yWeekend)  CCTV cuts off a live broadcast of a Chinese women's soccer game in order to guarantee advertising income.  By Wang Yuan.  February 28, 2008.

[in translation]

Recently, at the various big Internet forums, there was a post entitled <CCTV cuts off live broadcasting in order to cover up the shameful infraction by the Chinese team>.   A netizen asked CCTV: "What reason did you have for stopping the live broadcast?  CCTV, you really disappoint me!  You are not a good parent!"  Such were the questions.  After this reporter interviewed many parties, the actual conclusion was that CCTV interrupted the live broadcasting in order to show commercials as scheduled.

Soccer fan Wang Xing watched the live broadcast and he remembered that he was left clueless as to what happened: "The match had reached the final four or five minutes.  The Korean team had a corner kick.  Before the Korean team took the corner kick, there was pushing and shoving inside the penalty box.  The Chinese player Li Jie fell to the ground after jostling with the Korean players.  The referee signalled Li Jie to get off the field.  But as the Korean team was about to take the corner kick, Li Jie came back into the penalty area to interfere with the Korean player taking the kick.  This shocked the Korean player.  I saw the referee sprinting towards Li Jie.  But at that critical moment, the CCTV live broadcast suddenly ended.  About four or five commercials were shown.  Then the next program <Sports World> began.  There was no further description of how the match ended.  The veteran sportscaster Liu Ying for the match did not come back to explain.

What happened on the field after the live broadcast stopped?  This reporter asked the Beijing Morning News reporter Song Hong.  He said that the referee had shown Li Jie a yellow card immediately.  This was Li Jie's second yellow card of the match.  According to the rules, the referee was to show a red card immediately to indicate expulsion from the match.  But the referee forgot to do so, and that was why Li Jie stayed on the field.  The referee then stopped the match before the Korean team took the corner kick.

When some fans saw this scene at live broadcasts on other television channels, they all thought that CCTV interrupted the live broadcast in order not to embarrass the Chinese women's soccer team.  Some netizens thought that CCTV took an overly nationalistic tone in its broadcasts.  Generally, most netizens directed their criticisms against CCTV.

This reporter interviewed many different sources and their responses were quite different from the speculations of the netizens.

A worker at the CCTV Sports Channel told his reporter: "At the time, the commercials had not been shown.  On that day, I was watching the match from home.  The live broadcast was cut off in order to make way for the commercials.  It was very abrupt.  I thought that something must have happened.  On the next day, I went to work and I asked my colleagues what happened.  They said that if they did not cut off the live broadcasts, they would not be able to air the commercials.

This worker explained to the reporter: "At our channel, the commercials must be shown within stated periods.  If the game go five minutes over time and the next program has to appear at the scheduled time, then the commercials cannot be shown.  Sometimes, we delay the commercials due to the matches, but the advertisers are unhappy.  The five minutes before <Sports World> is popular with advertisers because it is a prime period between 930pm and 1000pm.  If we had delayed the commercials, the audience would be smaller.  The producer made a mistake because most live broadcasts should end with a concluding comment.  What happened here was unusual.  Later on, our leaders said that the live broadcast should have been allowed to finish because there was only five minutes left in the match.  Now the audience is left at a loss."

"CCTV interrupted the live broadcasting of the Chinese women's soccer game not because of any nationalistic emotions.  This was just a unique episode." An informed source told this reporter.  "A CCTV leader told me that a new team was brought in to handle this match.  On that day, the person in charge of the live broadcasts did not ask for enough satellite time.  Usually a 90 minute match should be getting 120 minutes of satellite time.  Unfortunately, time was up and the satellite signal was gone.  Therefore the game was gone.  If they did not show the commercials, the advertisers would be after them.  But this incident had a big impact on that staff, because they were all placed on leave.  But they will come back soon, because CCTV is short-handed on live broadcasts."

... Under what circumstances may CCTV interrupt live broadcasts?  This reporter interviewed Zhu Ping, who is responsible for the direct broadcasts of NBA games at the CCTV Sports Channel.

Zhu Ping said that there are five situations in which the live broadcast may be interrupted.  "The first and the most important situation is when there is an image related to any political issue.  Presently, all of our direct broadcasts have a time delay.  We seldom do real-time broadcasts.  Usually, the time delay is 20 seconds.  We have someone watching the match in real-time.  If some problem should occur at the scene, that person will inform the producer immediately.  After the direct broadcast is interrupted, either the scene is cut back to the studio or else some prepared clips are shown.  These clips are prepared precisely for such situation.  For example, in the CBA games, we can show the ten best basketball shots of the seasons.  We can also show the commercials.  Under such circumstances, we do not profit from those commercials, because we are using the commercials to cope with an emergency situation."

"Next are immoral behaviors such as nude running and spitting.  Such scenes are not permitted to be shown." Zhu Ping said, "Once, I was on night duty and a naked man suddenly ran onto the field in a European league game.  All of us exclaimed, 'This is unacceptable.'  We are all strongly sensitive to such scenes."

Zhu Ping said that violence on the field usually leads to the interruption of the broadcast.  She recalled in particular the Stankovic Continental Cup game on July 30, 2005 between China and Puerto Rico.  At 1:28 before the game ended, the players got into a brawl and the live broadcast was interrupted. "Why do I remember that so clearly?  Because the next day, many people complained about the interruption.  Some said, 'It is the responsibility of the media to broadcast accurately and truthfully to the public in a timely manner.  What were you afraid of when you stopped the live broadcast?  We want to see the actual scene of the game.'  Actually, I want to say that we stopped the live broadcast because we did not want to hype up the 'bloody scene'."

"This time, CCTV interrupted the live broadcast for the fourth situation.  But this is rarely seen."  Zhu Ping told this reporter, "In the past, we would broadcast a match live and then before we finish, we inform the viewers that the match would be continued to broadcast on some other channel as we have to show something else.  Or else we would tell our viewers that this match will not be shown anymore and that they can check <Sports World> for the final match result.  Some viewers then call to complain.  After a while, our leaders told us that we should not interrupt our broadcasts this way, especially when a match is winding down to the final crucial moments.  So we are now able to finish all our live broadcasts.  There is rarely any case in which we switch to something else before a match is over."

Zhu Ping said that the hardest thing for a producer is when a mistake is made by the staff itself.  At the last World Cup, the host Huang Jinxiang suddenly made an impassioned speech that the producer could not react in time to stop.

"The most deadly thing is to have your people make a mistake.  Usually, all commentary is made during the broadcast period and the commentator is one of our own people who is at the scene.  When he makes a mistake, the producer may not react fast enough.  For Huang Jinxiang's impassioned speech, our leader said that the producer should have immediately lowered the volume of his voice so that people can watch the screen and not listen to the words.  Then the producer should contact Huang immediately and ask him to stop.  But Huang Jinxiang is a veteran at CCTV with a great deal of fame.  So nobody expected that he would launch such a surprising tirade.  However, his final sentence 'Australia, get lost' already had the volume lowered by the producer.  Afterwards, the channel clarified that what Huang Jinxiang said was his personal opinion which did not represent CCTV."