China this weekconfirmed a major step in its programme of building media conglomerates andalso unveiled the country's first approved video-on-demand (VoD) service.

Xu Guangchun, minister at the State Administration of RadioFilm & Television (SARFT), unveiled the details of a three-way merger thatwould combine the giant China Central TV (CCTV) with both China National Radio(CNR) and China Radio International (CRI). "The blueprint for regroupingand integrating resources of the radio film and TV sectors has already beenworked out," he said. Communist Party and State level approval hurdlesstill need to be cleared.

Further mergersare now expected in China, where consolidation has already started to happenalong regional lines. In film distribution, for example, five major groups havesprung up across the three major centres of production - Beijing, Shanghai andChangchun.

"The focusof the reform is to explore the chain theatre system, to break regionalbarriers and unreasonable market monopolies and to establish a framework ofmultiple distribution channels," explained Hu Zhanfan, deputy generaldirector of SARFT, at last month's Hong Kong FilMart.

At the sametime, SARFT officials announced this week that VoD services were starting to beoffered on the cable networks in Baoding, in the northern Hebei province.Programming is understood to include films, educational programming andstock-market data with technology and software provided by Hong Kong'sDVN.

The cablenetwork placed an initial order with DVN for 10,000 set-top boxes. Instead oftaking cash payment, DVN will keep half the subscription revenues for the nextten years.

In many parts ofChina, TV development has run ahead of the regulators. SARFT said that VoDservices are actually operating in 23 towns. It is not yet know whether it willcrack down on those without its approval at national level, or whether it willsimply issue the incumbents with new licences.