China's Media Watchdog Reportedly Eyes Salary Cap for TV Stars

China Quota Wheel Illustration 2014

Spiraling costs and a clampdown on excess could hit TV actor earnings

Speculation is rife in China that the government broadcasting watchdog is planning a salary cap for actors in TV dramas, which could be introduced as early as next month.

The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) is concerned that actors' salaries are out of control, reports say, at a time when austerity is the order of the day in China, as a clampdown on excess continues.

In August, executives at China's top state-owned enterprises were told they would face income cutbacks, especially those working in the state banks and in the finance sector.

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While they have become more diverse, most TV dramas tend to be costumed historical epics or propaganda shows, but their stars can command large salaries.

Ostentatious displays of wealth are frowned upon, and TV actors, who often have higher profiles in China than their movie counterparts, could be in line for a salary haircut.

The move comes at a time that overseas content producers are keen to gain access to the Chinese market, which is hungry for TV dramas and movies to feed burgeoning demand.

According to articles on the social media platform WeChat, producers are putting off new contracts with actors, while those in talks are trying to get a deal before the pay ceiling is introduced.

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Some commentators doubt that SAPPRFT will introduce a salary cap, saying the issue will be decided by market forces.

At the same time, market rules had changed because of a rule introduced several months ago by SAPPRFT, saying one TV drama could not be shown by more than two satellite TV channels.

This policy increased the costs for a TV station to purchase copyright and focused attention on production costs.

One of China's most prominent TV drama directors, Zhang Jizhong, said that constant pay increases for actors were damaging the market.

"I hope the relevant departments step in to reorganize and set a curb on actors’ pay. I direct dramas myself, but I cannot hire big-name stars. I would rather spend the money on aspects where audience would see actual difference," he was quoted as saying by the Jinling Evening News.

Other big names cited included producer Liu Xiaofeng and directors Xu Geng and Huang Wenzhao, saying they believed the story was more important than overpriced talent.