China has become the new promised land for British television with the BBC leading a rush to sign partnerships with CCTV, the giant Chinese state broadcaster.
BBC Worldwide has signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with CCTV9, the Chinese broadcaster's documentary arm, to co-operate on at least two major natural history projects over the next six months.
The work relates to the globally-respected BBC Earth brand and follows CCTV's funding of part of the acclaimed BBC series Africa, hosted by Sir David Attenborough. CCTV has also contributed funds to the BBC2 physics series Wonders of Life, presented by Brian Cox, and the BBC1 science series Supersized Earth, hosted by Dallas Campbell.
The new arrangement will involve the establishment of a "centre for story development", working on documentaries that will focus on the Chinese and Asian market while targeting a global audience. The BBC and CCTV are also hoping to work on co-productions of live events.
The BBC Trust is likely to monitor the relationship closely to ensure that the BBC's editorial standards are not compromised by the arrangement.
In a separate development, 16 of Britain's biggest independent television production companies have travelled on a mission to China and signed their own memorandum with CCTV in the hope of selling programmes to the Chinese broadcaster. The British delegation included Hartswood Films, makers of the BBC1 hit Sherlock.
CCTV operates a vast network of 45 channels.
"We are working to lay the foundations for a longstanding relationship between UK production companies and Chinese buyers and broadcasters," said John McVay, chief executive of Pact, which represents the independent television production sector. "International exports of British television have seen extraordinary growth in the past few years - and independent television is now a multi-billion pound sector and among the fastest growing of the UK's creative industries."