China's Censors Crack Down on Streaming Services Showing Hollywood Content

 

In what could prove to be a major roadblock to the expansion of Internet-TV in China, the state body that regulates the television industry has taken aim at seven Internet-TV providers, warning them that any breach of strict censorship laws would likely result in their licenses being revoked.

Central Television, Zhejiang TV, BesTV and Wasu Online are among some of the companies that have been targeted by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) with a clear and stark warning on what foreign shows and movies will be allowed to be broadcast in China.

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SARFT is requesting that the seven targeted companies look for approval for all foreign TV shows they plan to show on their networks. Failure to do so would lead to those foreign shows and movies being removed within seven days. Failure to comply with the removal requests would lead to those companies losing their licenses, said SARFT.

Internet-TV has taken off in China, particularly among the younger generation, with set-top boxes allowing viewers to stream and download a vast array of content, invariably imported international television shows and movies. Shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Sherlock and Vampire Diaries have proved huge hits in China, almost entirely due to streaming (sometimes legal, sometimes not).

SARFT has been looking to reassert stronger controls over downloadable and streaming entertainment content in China in recent months. In April, Sina.com, China's largest news portal, saw its Online Audio-Video Program License revoked by SARFT. Sources close to the decision intimated that the government censor was unhappy with the video channel allowing amateur filmmakers to upload uncensored videos, leaving the site open to politically controversial content.

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Last month, the body ordered Internet-TV set-top box providers Wasu and BesTV to cut off downloading and streaming channels that they suspected contained "forbidden" foreign content that was politically incorrect, pornographic or pirated.

SARFT's crackdown comes just days after Alibaba and Lionsgate announced a landmark partnership on a streaming service to launch in China called Lionsgate Entertainment World, to be exclusively available on Alibaba's set-top boxes. Via the service, Chinese viewers will have access to the Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games movies, as well as television shows like Mad Men. 

Neither Lionsgate nor Alibaba were immediately available to comment on how SARFT's signal towards stricter control of streaming content may affect their ambitions. 

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