News / Asia

China Censors Assert Online Authority in Blow to US TV Shows

An online streaming website shows a description of American TV show
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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More