SpongeBob SquarePants is expected to reach television screens in China and Japan by the end of the month as MTV Networks International, part of Viacom, the US media group, launches SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons in the two countries.
The cartoons, which air on MTV Networks' Nickelodeon channel in most countries, will be screened on the children's channel of CCTV, the Chinese national broadcaster, which has a reach of 300 million households.
The launch will be accompanied by a series of on-the-ground promotional activities, including appearances on the Great Wall and at the Forbidden Palace, to overcome restrictions in China on more conventional media promotion.
The plans for China and Japan, where SpongeBob programming was made available over mobile phone networks this summer, are part of a push by Bill Roedy, president of MTV Networks International, to expand in Asia. Nickelodeon launched a 14-hour channel in South Korea this July and has plans to launch in Thailand and Taiwan next year.
SpongeBob, which launched in the US in 1999, is syndicated into 171 markets around the world and has been translated into more than 26 markets. The group will also launch a SpongeBob consumer products line in China.
The character has generated $4 billion so far in retail sales alone, and its consumer products revenues are growing at about 25 percent a year in the 22 international markets in which the line has launched.
The multi-million dollar investment in launching SpongeBob in China follows years of negotiations between the country's leaders and Sumner Redstone, Viacom's chairman and chief executive officer. Since signing a joint venture with Shanghai Media Group in 2004, the group has syndicated MTV and Nickelodeon programming on SMG's channels and co-produced MTV awards ceremonies.
The show attracts nearly 54 million viewers a month in the U.S., including 12.7 million nine- to 14-year-olds and 12.9 million adults over 18.