Beyond the signal: a view from China on the copyright protection of live sports programming

Author:Yan Bo
Position:Deputy Director, Copyright and Legal Office, China Central Television (CCTV), Beijing, People’s Republic of China

Over the years, television broadcasting has been the catalyst for the development of the sports economy. Indeed, as noted by Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), sports and TV are “a match made in heaven”. The Olympic Movement is a very good example of the significant economic contribution of broadcasters to the development of sports. As... (see full summary)


Television broadcasting has been the prominent factor in promoting sports events and generating income from top-tier sports events such as the Olympic Games, in particular. Televised broadcast of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016 each exceeded 3 billion viewers, nearly half of the world’s population. Moreover, the sale of rights to broadcast the Olympic Games from 2013 to 2016, accounted for 73 percent of the IOC’s total revenue (see p.13). As noted by the IOC in its Olympic Marketing Fact File 2019, Olympic broadcast partnerships have provided the Olympic Movement with “a secure financial base” and have been its “single greatest source of revenue” for more than three decades.

Sports and television are also “a match made in China”. While the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin marked the first live television coverage of an international sports event in history, it was more than four decades before live sports broadcasts took place in China. In 1978, China Central Television (CCTV) recorded and broadcast the last four matches of the 1978 Argentina FIFA World Cup for the first time. And in 1982, at the request of Chinese viewers, CCTV succeeded in broadcasting live the World Cup final between Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany (as it was then known) in Spain for the first time. The first live broadcast of the Olympic Games to viewers in China took place during the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles (USA). Thereafter, CCTV obtained licenses to broadcast subsequent Olympic Games and World Cup tournaments live and to provide free viewing to the majority of Chinese viewers.

CCTV's sports channel, CCTV5, also covered other international sports events, including the UEFA European Championships, the Champions League, and other major European football leagues in the United Kingdom, France and Italy. It also broadcast Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the Asian Games, NBA (National Basketball Association) in the United States and so on. Of course, the World Table Tennis Championships, the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, and the World Figure Skating Championships are also strong favorites among Chinese audiences.

Broadcasters have helped to promote the popularity of important international sports brands in China while bringing spectacular sports events to Chinese sports fans. The live broadcast of these major international sports events has significantly boosted television ratings. For example, according to the CSM ratings survey, CCTV's ratings share for sports events in China in 2018 was 52 percent higher than that in 2017 due to its success in broadcasting of the World Cup in Russia, the Winter Olympic Games...

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