News / Asia

China Censors Assert Online Authority in Blow to US TV Shows

An online streaming website shows a description of American TV show "The Big Bang Theory" but it no longer have access to episodes in the series on a computer screen in Beijing, April 27, 2014.
An online streaming website shows a description of American TV show "The Big Bang Theory" but it no longer have access to episodes in the series on a computer screen in Beijing, April 27, 2014.
Reuters
China's censors are asserting their authority over foreign TV content on the country's booming online video sites, after years of hands-off regulation, raising the risks for U.S. distributors left in the dark about which shows might fall foul of the rules.

Chinese authorities gave no reason when they unexpectedly slapped internet video sites with rare takedown notices for popular U.S. TV shows The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice.

None of the shows are known for the political or sexual content that usually makes Chinese censors queasy, raising suspicions among some experts of a covert attempt to protect the revenues of ailing state broadcaster CCTV.

The uncertainty is a problem for the U.S. companies that license TV dramas for online streaming in China.

“Chinese video sites will hesitate to introduce potentially risky U.S. shows, because of concern that they won't be approved,” said Hu Yong, an associate professor at Peking University's School of Journalism and Communication.

“They probably will turn to buy more Korean and domestically produced shows, in order to maintain their video revenues.”

CBS Interactive, a subsidiary of CBS Corp., is responsible for The Good Wife and NCIS in China, while Warner Brothers Television, part of Time Warner Inc., sells the rights for The Big Bang Theory, online video companies told Reuters.

It was not immediately possible to establish which company licenses The Practice for China.

Sensitive content

Charles Zhang, CEO of Sohu.Com Inc., one of the companies targeted, told a conference call with reporters on Monday that he saw the move as a one-off event rather than a shift in policy towards American TV shows.

His comments were made after the price of shares in Sohu and rivals Youku Tudou Inc., Baidu Inc., and Tencent Holdings Ltd. tumbled on the news.

iQiyi, the online video unit of Baidu, said the removal notice from the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) was because of sensitive content.

“The directive on the four American TV plays from SARFT is  due to their content, including certain violations of state regulations,” said a spokeswoman for iQiyi in an email. “It is not an intentional sanction on American TV plays.”

Youku Tudou and Tencent declined to comment.

But the four TV shows will likely come back online soon, according to one source familiar with the matter, after offending footage is cut from the programs.

SARFT declined to comment.

China's online video industry saw its revenues more than quadruple from 2010 to 2013 to reach 12.8 billion yuan ($2.05 billion), according to data firm iResearch. This is expected to almost triple in size by 2017.

Such growth is an obvious threat to established broadcasters  such as China Central Television (CCTV), widely seen as a dinosaur in China's fast-developing media industry.

As online video revenues grew four-fold, CCTV saw the growth of its annual budget drop for three years running from 2010 to 2013, and growth of sales of some of the broadcaster's most valuable advertising slots for 2014 also appeared to slow, according to Barclays.

Annual Shakedown

Even as the four, relatively tame shows were being removed from streaming sites at the weekend, CCTV, better known for its turgid news broadcasts, was screening HBO's violent and raunchy medieval fantasy drama Game of Thrones.

That, and CCTV's confirmation to Reuters on Monday that it had bought exclusive broadcast rights to The Big Bang Theory, prompted some experts to see another motive.

“CCTV has gone out and licensed the show and realized Sohu and the others are already pumping it out, so who's going to watch it on their platform?” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting.

“One answer is, let's complain to regulators these guys haven't gotten proper approval and they are violating our rights because we've licensed the broadcasting rights. It's time-honored, CCTV does an annual shakedown.”

CCTV told Reuters the broadcaster had nothing to do with The Big Bang Theory and other shows being taken down from websites.

“Pulling the shows offline is because of SARFT regulations. Every overseas TV program has to be assessed and approved before it can go back online, so it has nothing to do with CCTV,” said a CCTV official who declined to identify himself.

“We got the exclusive permit for the overseas TV show broadcast, so only one channel can have it and other channels can't broadcast it,” said the official, who declined to say whether the exclusive rights applied to both TV and online.

The removal of the four TV shows also comes as China's  online crackdown intensifies, with various branches of the government vying to assert their authority over the Internet.

In an unprecedented move, the anti-pornography office last week imposed fines and revoked online publication, audio and video licenses for Sina Corp, after the company was accused of distributing pornography.

Previously the authority had only exercised control over traditional, rather than online, media, experts said.

SARFT's directive indicates it too may now be adopting a  more hands-on approach to how websites use foreign-made TV, said people familiar with the matter.

“SARFT has been working to set up a team but over the years it was still being discussed. Sooner or later they will have a dedicated policy on imported TV dramas,” said one of the people.

“It's a new government, there's a crackdown on media and right now it's hard to predict, but it will come out.”

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid