China to Clamp Down on Reality TV Shows

China Quota Wheel Illustration 2014

Reality is not a popular format with the ruling Communist Party, which wants art to "serve the people."

China's state media watchdog is planning a raft of new rules for reality TV shows, which will restrict satellite broadcasters to one reality series, most likely per year, and require that programs must be "close to the masses."

One of three State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) rules will take effect at the end of June, followed by two additional rules in July. The rules do not differentiate between domestic and foreign shows. They are the latest in a raft of regulations controlling content. Chinese online video providers do not seem to be affected by the rules.

President Xi Jinping is waging a moral crusade in all areas of public life, and reality TV programming is often seen as suspect. Shows like Dad, Where Are We Going? and Running Man are wildly popular in China. There are no U.S. reality shows airing in China at the moment.

Since April, SAPPRFT has had the power to okay all foreign TV shows before they can be posted on Chinese video sites, and producers must present an entire season for approval before a show can be offered.

Reality TV shows are the latest programs to fall foul of China's web of regulations, as the government tries to tighten up on what it considers vulgar or decadent content.

According to a report on the Yule toushi yan Weibo microblog and other sites, SAPPRFT will issue three rules for reality shows. The one that takes effect later this month will say that each satellite broadcaster can only air one reality show, with content "close to the masses, with no exaggeration and no mixing the spurious with the genuine."

SAPPRFT tends to issue its directives to individual companies rather than posting them broadly online, so often news of changes in the rules becomes known over time through websites such as Yule toushi yan and others.

The other rules state that only one season of any reality show can be shown per year, and only two daytime repeats are permitted. These rules take effect in July.

Many reality formats in China come from South Korea, including the two giants, Dad, Where Are We Going? and Running Man. Both have spawned at least two movie spinoffs that were box-office smashes: Dad, Where Are We Going? and Emperor Holiday.

Running Man involves contestants competing against each other doing various challenges, while Dad, Where Are We Going? involves celebrity fathers and their offspring going camping.

Another popular reality show, We Are in Love on Jiangsu TV, was taken off the air this week and suspended, ostensibly for technical reasons. But there are online rumors that the suspension had to do with the new rules. The reported reason was that the show needed to have "more normal people falling in love on the show."

Reality TV shows are so popular in China that production companies are making cheap and cheerful movie adaptations of them to run in theaters, often reaping massive box-office revenue.