Chinese regulators have ordered streaming video websites nationwide to take down four popular American TV series, a move that precedes new regulations seeking to close a loophole that has allowed foreign shows to flourish online, even as censors have limited them on broadcast television.
Censors with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued orders for video sites to stop showing “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Good Wife,” “NCIS” and “The Practice,” employees of two online streaming sites said Sunday. According to one employee, the order was issued Friday. Unlike previous take- down orders, this one was accompanied by no explanation from the authorities, the employees said.
After years of allowing foreign TV shows to rack up millions of views on Chinese streaming video websites, skirting the strict quotas and censorship enforced on broadcast networks, the government has indicated in private talks with Internet companies that it plans to close this control gap with new rules this year, company employees say.
In recent years, American shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” and Netflix’s “House of Cards” have found avid online audiences in China, particularly among the growing middle class. With plenty of violence, superstition and scandal — all themes Chinese government censors frown upon — these shows would most likely never have made it onto Chinese television. But through the Internet, where censorship of online videos is looser than on TV, they have gained millions of fans through video websites that legally license the shows. And the government has taken note.
The online video sphere also takes advantage of loopholes in policy to broadcast far more foreign programming than is allowed on film and TV. Officially, the government caps foreign films at 34 a year and imposes quotas on the number of foreign shows on Chinese television.
Yet websites like iQiyi, Youku Tudou and Sohu provide China’s 600 million Internet users with largely free access to nearly all the latest foreign TV shows, as well as hundreds of films and documentaries. Chinese viewers can often watch shows the same day they air in the United States. The video websites feature legal content licensed through contracts signed directly with American networks like NBC and CBS.
In China, domestic TV shows and films undergo a rigorous and lengthy pre- and post-filming government approval process. Though the government sees culture as a key platform for the soft power influence it craves, rigid censorship means some of the most acclaimed works by Chinese producers are banned in China.