China to take its Lunar New Year TV extravaganza to a global audience to spread its culture

China says its annual Lunar New Year gala TV show is all set to go international.

State broadcaster China Central Television says it's making rights available to foreign broadcasters for the first time, and plans to promote the Feb. 18 show on Twitter and other social media.

CCTV touts its annual hours-long Spring Festival Gala as the world's longest-running and most-watched variety show.

A staple of holiday celebrations since the 1980s, the evening show also has been widely mocked for cheesy performances and stilted staging.

This year's show will be broadcast in several languages, including English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese and German, under agreements with 24 foreign media outlets, said Ma Runsheng, general manager of CHNPEC, the CCTV-owned agency which deals with its copyrights.

Ma said greatest hits from past shows — including the best moments of traditional Chinese opera — will be encapsulated to promote the gala on YouTube, Google Plus and Twitter, which are blocked in China.

"Our purpose is to make our gala available to more overseas Chinese and overseas foreign viewers who love Chinese culture and want to learn about Chinese culture through this festive celebration," Ma said at a news conference Monday.

This year's theme is "Family Harmony Yields Success."

The gala is already broadcast live on multiple TV channels and on some Chinese websites. Last year, more than 700 million people watched the show live or a replay a week later on CCTV or other channels, and 110 million people watched it online, according to Zheng Weidong, deputy managing director of CSM Media Research, which pulls together ratings.

When the gala started in 1983, relatively few Chinese families had their own TV sets, but it evolved into a major annual viewing event.

Now, many younger viewers prefer watching something else online. Last year, to try to increase its appeal, organizers hired acclaimed film director Feng Xiaogang to direct it, but he reportedly complained that he didn't have the freedom to do what he wanted, and many critics gave the show a thumbs-down.