There are two sides to China’s growth story.
One is a tale of managing slowdown, as Beijing endeavors to reorient the massive national economy towards more consumption-driven growth, reducing reliance on government investment.
In general, the outlook here remains relatively favorable for China’s ad-supported media.
Double-digit inflation rates for the most popular media – significantly higher than economic growth or increases in advertising budgets – tend to nudge marketers towards earlier commitments, in order to lock in the best prices.
And when one brand moves, category rivals usually follow.
Furthermore, the three mainstays of China’s ad market – automotive, cosmetics and FMCG – are also among the most fiercely competitive categories, helping keep ad spend volumes high.
There is another trend reshaping media plans however – an economic uptick for inland provinces, with the current slowdown impacting more prosperous locales such as Guangdong and the Eastern seaboard.
The Chinese government has been seeking to even out economic growth for some time now, with some success in large industrial and urban centers.
More recently however, poorer rural provinces are starting to benefit as well.
Large advertisers have also been present in China's lower-tier markets for some time, though not always with a fully fledged communication strategy.
As these markets become increasingly important, that’s changing too, opening up new opportunities for media owners.
“I think it will help all media owners, and ourselves,” says Vineet Arora, China managing director of Arena, an agency network within Havas Media Group.
“You have to plan it differently, you might have a different mix, so you have to optimize [media plans] differently,” Arora adds.
“You don’t have that much history to go on, so you’re trying to collect data. You’re trying to pick up a platform from which you can build for the next five to six years.”
Hope for newspapers
Local media are well placed to benefit, including newspapers which had hit a brick wall in China in terms of ad growth.
Local TV too, but stations still face competition from national and near-national alternatives such as national broadcaster CCTV and provincial satellite TV stations (PSTVs).
The performance of these networks will also be re-evaluated, Arora suggests, as marketers will look at how much audience they attract locally before layering in local options.
Popular PSTVs from the likes of Hunan, Shanghai and Zhejiang are likely to become even more attractive to marketers than before.
PSTVs are already enjoying high TV ratecard inflation, pegged around 19% from 2011 to 2012 for a 15-second primetime slot, according to media monitor CTR.
That's higher than other networks but still something of a slowdown for PSTV. Inflation rates for the same spot a year before were a massive 27%.
Demand is rising for provincial channels, though not to the same level as PSTV. On average, a 15-second primetime slot on these networks cost 17% more last year, up from a 14% increase the year before.
Inflation rates on city channels are more steady, with prices going up by about 10% each year.
Competition between leading TV stations, meanwhile, remains as fierce as ever.
CCTV, which tends to adopt a more serious tone, unveiled its own quarterly entertainment season this year, in a bid to take share from popular PSTVs.
“The total number of entertainment programs doubled this year,” observes Bin Zhao, deputy managing director of domestic agency Charm Communications.
“At the same time, we saw a big improvement in terms of creativity and integration when new entertainment programs launched.”
Such shifts are matched by growing regulation regarding TV shows however.
Last month, the regulator ordered a moratorium on singing talent shows, which have proliferated in China after a localized version of The Voice from Zhejiang Satellite TV became a smash hit.