Once the TV industry king, KPS looks for new niche

Taiwan's first television production company considers ways to modernize development, production and distribution of its content

The China Post
Sunday, November 30, 2008

By Y.L. Kao

TAIPEI, Taiwan --- The Catholic Kuangchi Program Service (KPS), Taiwan's first television production center, is trying to restore its past prestige in a rapidly changing mass media environment as it celebrates its 50th year of operations.

As Taiwan's oldest audio and video producer that saw its programs broadcast around the country long before TV stations were established, KPS was a household name during the 1960s and early '70s and is recognized as an integral part of the history of Taiwan's TV industry.

But with the proliferation of TV and cable stations broadcasting commercially popular programming spiced with sex and violence over the past 15 years, KPS' educational and cultural productions have found less of a market. The nonprofit organization that once offered its productions for free and survived on donations has been forced to charge for its productions, and its staff of more than 120 people per shift during its heyday when it produced 500 shows a year now consists of only around 40 full-time employees.

The company is pursuing breakthrough ideas and technologies to modernize the development, production and distribution of its content, while maintaining its position within the high-quality production market niche.

To regain some of its past glory, KPS took a giant stride forward three years ago. It collaborated with Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation in China to produce a highly acclaimed four-part TV documentary series on Xu Guangqi, an official in China's Imperial Court and good friend of Fr. Matteo Ricci SJ, and on Johann Adam Schall von Bell, a celebrated Catholic missionary who continued the Ricci's mission in China. KPS is also taking steps to move to digital production of its TV and Internet programs. It produces cultural, educational, and religious TV programs and DVDs for broadcast and distribution in Taiwan and China via satellite, cable TV, and the Internet.

Most recognizable

Despite today's fiercely competitive environment, KPS Vice President Jerry Martinson said he still has great confidence in the company's productions. "If KPS programs are good enough to be competitive, they will not be phased out," he said in an interview with the Central News Agency ahead of a celebration of the firm's 50th anniversary on Nov. 29.

Martinson is one of the most recognizable foreign figures in Taiwan, having hosted many of the company's programs and served the island for nearly 40 years.

He said he believes it is necessary to promote mutual respect among peoples, an outlook that has become his guideline for the company's productions.

KPS' mission, Martinson said, is to provide media services that promote spiritual values and attend to the needs of marginalized groups in society through programs that entertain and teach while disseminating positive human values and promoting respect for life.

Those values, he said, have found a receptive audience. He recalled that a couple of years ago, he met a man on a street who held his hands to express his gratitude because a KPS program had saved his life.

The man told Martinson the program had discouraged him from committing suicide and spurred him to continue living and tide over life's difficulties.

Despite the increased difficulties of competing in today's world, Martinson expressed optimism about the arrival of the digital era, saying it would open new opportunities for KPS to distribute its programs to a larger audience with greater quality and help KPS regain its earlier prestige.

Kuangchi first started producing radio music and drama programs broadcast throughout Taiwan free of charge in 1958.

Called Kuangchi Recording Studio at its inception, it was the brainchild of American Catholic priest Father Phillip Bourett, who foresaw the powerful influence mass media would have on the development of Taiwan's society. When the company moved from Taichung in central Taiwan to Taipei and changed its name to its present title in 1960, it ventured into television and began producing educational programs and drama series.

Three years later, it became Taiwan's first independent TV production center equipped with studios for black and white TV production and produced Taiwan's first drama series called "Mother."

It later set up an animated film department and created the country's first 16 mm documentary film and its first color animation.

Award-winning series

KPS began videotaping in color in 1970 and produced a number of popular award-winning socio-educational TV series and documentaries, including science series such as Acme, Mr. Science & Miss Technology, Modern Weapons, and Life Square.

During the past five decades, KPS has nurtured a vast number of media producers, journalists, cameramen, script writers and directors, most of whom now work in various mass media companies or organizations around Taiwan.

It has also helped create countless TV stars, such as glamorous hostesses Betty Pai, Chang Hsiao-yen, and famous singer Cui Tai-jing.

Several scholars specializing in mass communications lauded the organization's contributions to Taiwan's TV industry with its wide variety of quality productions, but said it needed to focus on more specific audiences and look to new technologies to regain its previous vitality.

Chen Ching-ho, a professor in the Department of Radio and Television at Chengchi University, who interned at KPS in 1977, said the service was relatively unknown to Taiwan's youngsters today despite its past glory. He suggested that KPS forgo commercial programming and concentrate only on church communication functions by making good use of the resources and talent it can find from Catholic churches around the world.

Weber Lai, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Applied Media Arts at National Taiwan University of Arts, said KPS was the top programming brand in the very early days of television in Taiwan but is now at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to commercial programming.

Lai said the service's educational and cultural productions cannot compete with commercial TV stations that inundate the airwaves with sex and violence to boost ratings.

He suggested that the government support KPS in conjunction with other public service programming producers to set up a platform for creative media professionals to produce quality programs that can be exported to China and other Asian countries.

Meanwhile, Kuan Chung-hsiang, assistant professor at the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Shih Hsin University, believed KPS would face considerable obstacles in trying to get commercial TV stations to broadcast its quality programming.

He therefore advised the nonprofit organization to shift to the use of state-of-the-art Internet and digitalized technologies in producing its programs and distribute them directly to reach younger audiences.