China mulls quotas on foreign TV programming

China’s online video platforms are bracing themselves for the possible introduction of quotas on foreign TV programming, while the thorny issue of streaming content to smart TVs continues to trouble Chinese regulators.

According to FT.com, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, Chinese authorities are considering the introduction of a 30% limit on the proportion of foreign TV content allowed on streaming sites. However, it’s not clear whether the 30% applies to the number of titles, episodes or hours.

China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) hasn’t made an announcement about quotas, but has ordered all streaming sites to register foreign films and TV shows by the end of March 2015. Failure to do so will result in content being withdrawn.

“Without a publication license, no overseas films or TV series are allowed to run online,” SAPPRFT said in a statement.

So far, China’s streaming sites have enjoyed much more freedom in the content they show than traditional broadcasters and cinemas. But earlier this year, four US TV shows – The Big Bang Theory, The Practice, The Good Wife and NCIS – were ordered off Chinese streaming sites. Soon after, state-owned broadcaster CCTV started airing an edited version of The Big Bang Theory on traditional TV.

Meanwhile, Chinese regulators are also concerned about the migration of streaming from laptops, phones and tablets to set-top boxes and internet-enabled TVs. In July, the government issued an order requiring the use of its TVOS operating system for set-top boxes and banning the use of other software.

Chinese online video platform LeTV manufactures its own smart TV hardware, while its rivals including iQiyi, Sohu and Youku Tudou have been forming alliances with smart TV and set-top box manufacturers.

Several companies, including LeTV, have recently been forced by authorities to temporarily suspend sales of set-top boxes and streaming apps. LeTV had reportedly formed an alliance with Chongqing Radio and Television to find a way around the policy siege, but the partnership doesn’t appear to have yielded the desired results.