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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid