China tightens rules for online video content

New regulations that restrict uncensored foreign films and TV series on China’s online video platforms came into effect today (April 1).

First announced by China’s State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) last September, the rules require that all foreign films and TV series must be submitted for censorship and obtain a permit before they can be streamed.

“Without a publication license, no overseas films or TV series are allowed to stream online,” SAPPRFT said in a statement, adding that unregistered content would be removed starting today.

More importantly, each TV series must be censored in its entirety following its original broadcast, rather than episode-by-episode, which means they can’t be streamed immediately after their broadcast overseas.

This means that shows such as Game Of Thrones, which Tencent recently acquired from HBO, could face delays of up to nine months before being streamed in China.

As China’s traditional TV channels are heavily censored and subject to import quotas, foreign content has proliferated on video streaming platforms such as Youku Tudou, iQiyi, Tencent, Sohu and LeTV.

Until recently, the online space appeared to be relatively censorship-free with shows such as House Of Cards, which featured a corrupt Chinese businessman in its second season, streaming without any cuts.

However, Chinese authorities started to clamp down in April 2014, ordering streaming platforms to drop four US shows, including The Big Bang Theory, The Practice, The Good Wife and NCIS.

In January 2015, shows including Agent Carter, Empire and Shameless were also dropped by online video platforms. Some sites are making up the shortfall by streaming older shows such as Heroes, Lost, Prison Break and Sex And The City.

Chinese netizens have responded by pointing out that the regulations will encourage online piracy or the resurrection of pirate DVD stores that sell full series of US shows for just a few US dollars.

Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Culture said separately it would punish video streaming sites that hosted content containing violence and pornography, although it appears to be mostly concerned about a select number of Japanese anime shows.