China's Censors Clamp Down on Booming Internet Video Sector

China Quota Wheel Illustration 2014

The new rules will require censorship approval for all streaming video, which could dampen recent growth of Hollywood content sales to the country's Internet giants.

China’s top industry watchdog has introduced a policy of “censor first, broadcast later” for local Internet companies streaming TV shows and movies, which could mean tighter control over online distribution of Hollywood content in China.

From now on, online companies will have to employ government-approved censors to vet content and obtain a censorship license, then monitor content before it is broadcast, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) said in a statement on its website.

PHOTOS: Cut, Censored, Changed: 10 Hollywood Films Tweaked for International Release

Online companies like Sohu, Youku Tudou and Baidu have been showing TV shows such as House of Cards and Modern Family after doing their own internal censorship. Sales to such sites had been viewed as a promising, and potentially very lucrative, new distribution channel for Hollywood in the country. 

Until now, streamed content has been shown outside of the normal censorship system, which is carried out by SAPPRFT. Recent months have seen the release of some TV shows that seemed surprising. For example, zombie show The Walking Dead is a popular show online, but World War Z didn't make it past censorship for a cinematic release.

“Service companies broadcasting Internet audio and video programs, such as online dramas and microfilms etc., should have qualified personnel examining the content, who meet the requirements for checking and have been trained by state or provincial Internet video and audio programs industry associations,” SAPPRFT said in a statement.

STORY: Hollywood's New Gold Mine: Youku Tudou

“They should have a solid editing and censorship management system for program content, and need a legally obtained license to stream video and audio programs, issued by the SAPPRFT, and should strictly follow the permission to develop business within the permitted business scope,’ the watchdog said.

Purchased content will be treated the same as self-produced content, SAPPRFT added.

Internet video and audio service companies also need to verify the identities of the people or organizations who upload the video and audio programs to their websites.

Films or TV programs that have not been approved by the censors cannot be broadcasted on the Internet, it said.

Investors and operators from the service companies who stream content that has not been officially approved will be warned, fined or punished by being barred from streaming content for up to five years.