China to Require Permits for Foreign TV Shows Streamed Online

Michael Yarish/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
'The Big Bang Theory' was pulled from Chinese video sites in April

Tougher regulations will adversely affect hugely popular shows like 'The Big Bang Theory'

Foreign TV shows and movies streamed online in China will need to have permits issued by a state watchdog, China Daily reported Monday. 

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARPPFT) has been ordering the removal of popular foreign shows as well as trailing warnings of coming tougher regulation for months. The announced permit policy will see all foreign TV shows and movies reviewed by watchdogs before being made available for viewing online, reported China Daily, which has close links to the Chinese government and is considered a reputable source on matters of state policy.

The Big Bang Theory was the most high-profile casualty of a Chinese government attempt to censor overseas content, ordering that the show be removed from legal video sites in April. Other U.S. shows that ran afoul of the TV watchdog were The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice.

The sudden removal of The Big Bang Theory led to series creator Chuck Lorre responding sarcastically with one of his signature 'vanity notes' which ended with the defiant words: "The overlords of 1.3 billion people are afraid of our sitcom. Exactly what we were going for!"

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The new policy means that Chinese audiences will not now, legally, be able to watch certain shows simultaneously as they are broadcast overseas. The bureaucratic imposition of extra waiting time to watch shows caused by the permit policy has become a hot topic on Chinese social media and hit the top 10 most discussed items on Sina Weibo. 

Social media users are speculating whether the increasingly tough regulations are part of a larger crackdown on immoral content on the Internet, following on from the policy to ban stars guilty of drug or sex scandals from Chinese television screens

China Daily reported that though there has been no public comment from the big online video sites such as Youku, privately and anonymously the industry is concerned by the developments. "It raised our concern about copyrights, which may lead to a loss of users," said an insider from a popular online streaming site to China Daily under condition of anonymity. 

Some producers of foreign shows are looking to get out in front of China's censors by providing full episodes for review well in advance. Producers behind the incredibly popular South Korean TV dramas are said to be pursuing this strategy. 

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