China Clamps Down on Internet Video Industry

China Lawyer Problem - P 2013

China Lawyer Problem - P 2013

Trying to get a regulatory handle on the burgeoning "microfilm" market, authorities announced a new rule requiring all uploaders of such content to identify themselves online with their real names.

Chinese authorities tightened their grip on the country's nascent Internet video space this week, announcing new regulations that require producers of so-called digital "microfilms" to submit their real names when uploading content to local Internet video sites.

The short, low-budget, amateur movies known locally as "microfilms" have emerged as a popular alternative to professionally produced films and TV series among media consumers in China. Old Boys, an early microfilm hit, has attracted 80 million views since it was released online in 2010. The film struck a nerve with its story about a group of friends trying to get ahead in boom era China and was recently picked up for a big screen adaptation by Youku Tudou, Ruyi Films and Le Vision Pictures. The film version, written as a sequel, is due out in cinemas in May.

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The real name requirement was introduced to "prevent vulgar content, base art forms, exaggerated violence and sexual content in Internet video having a negative effect on society," China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SGAPPRFT ) said in a statement on its website.

Following the regulator's announcement Tuesday, there was some uncertainty within the Chinese tech and entertainment world as to whether the rule applies to all user generated content (UGC) uploaded to streaming video sites -- which could have a major impact on the industry -- or if it was meant only to cover Internet TV serials and microfilms.

Internet video market leaders Youku Tudou and Sohu declined to comment.

Since the regulatory body's announcement also stated that the rule is "targeted at online dramas, micro-films and other online audio-visual programs," most industry insiders now say they are interpreting the guideline as applying only to this limited slice of UGC.

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The government has been struggling to get a handle on as the burgeoning but difficult to regulate new media category of microfilms and web series, which are often quickly produced and consumed via smart phones. This week's announcement follows a guideline issued by the SGAPPRFT in 2012 requiring Internet video providers to take responsibility for editing all microfilms before posting them. While most microfilms are meant to be consumed as light entertainment, some have touched upon politically sensitive issues and risqué topics. This week's move further serves the government's interest of controlling the online conversation in China. 

Last year, China introduced a similar rule requiring real name identification for users of social media such as Sina Weibo, the country’s answer to Twitter. Commentators bemoaned that the rule would likely stifle the lively social debate and civilian journalism that often goes down on the platform, although many now say the rule has proved easy to circumvent and difficult to enforce.