China Radio International Gets Greedy: Branson Says “Sod Off”

Zach Coleman over at the Hong Kong Standard has brought to light the disgraceful denouement of the partnership between Virgin Radio Asia and China’s #2 radio broadcaster and global propaganda outlet China Radio International. He was good enough to quote me on record, but unfortunately I could not say all that needs to be said about this. So I will here.

I say disgraceful because it was yet another case of a foreign company coming into China, resuscitating a lousy property in an overlooked industry, turning it into a paying proposition, and just when they start to make money, wham! The locals change the terms of business so it’s impossible to turn a profit.

As I have long been saying to the three people who would listen (including my wife and 2-year old when strapped into a moving vehicle with me and no place to go), radio in China is an insanely undervalued medium. But in order for it to gain value, you need great (not just good, but great) programming, production values, and professional and engaging on-air talent. With all due respect to CRI, those are three things the state broadcaster has consistently proven it was unable to bring to the table.

Clearly, the move is stupid on several levels:

Stupid Level 1: Dead Goose, No Eggs: As Beijing Variety correspondent and Village Grouch Steven Schwankert noted, CRI essentially killed the goose that laid the golden eggs when all they had to do was sit back and count the money from the deal and spend their time on other things.

Stupid Level 2: Now CRI will have to spend money on its own program to replace it. So instead of taking in cash, they now have a cost center . And it will fail to meet the Virgin standard. And they will lose advertisers.

Stupid Level 3: They messed with the wrong dude, in my opinion. Call it coincidence, call it Karma. the fact is, people who piss off Richard Branson have a funny way of watching their businesses evaporate. Richard Branson is the spear in the side of British Airways. Richard Branson is the arrow in the heart of HMV and Tower Music. Richard Branson is the machine gun pointed at nearly every mobile operator in the world.

Businessmen around the world have learned: join this man, do not try to beat him. Mess with him, on the other hand, and prepare for Disruptive Innovation delivered with the force of vengeful fury. Full-body check on the business model.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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