Chinese Regulators Restrict Imports of TV Formats

TV stations will be held to one foreign TV format a year starting in 2014, and only one music talent show will be approved for primetime each quarter.

China's media watchdog has cut back the number of foreign TV formats allowed to be broadcast in the country, with satellite broadcasters restricted to airing one per year beginning in 2014. The move is part of a broader crackdown on what the government sees as vulgarity in broadcasting, as well as an effort to promote local content -- especially education programming and that which "builds morality."

The rule is bad news for Hollywood and overseas TV companies seeking a foothold in China. They step up a raft of regulations introduced in February, which capped the broadcast of foreign television series to 50 episodes, and will result in fewer foreign series being aired in China.

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This is expected to result in more TV viewers abandoning the traditional TV format and watching on other platforms, such as computers, tablets and mobile devices.

Chinese audiences have warmly embraced overseas formats like China’s Got Talent and The Voice, but now the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television says satellite broadcasters will be allowed to buy only one format per year.

China's broadcasting landscape is dominated by CCTV, the state-run TV colossus, but provincial satellite channels are becoming more and more influential. Hunan Satellite Television, in the central province of Hunan, is the second-most watched channel in China, is widely available around the country and has scored some major successes over the years with programs like the American Idol-style Super Girl -- and it also owns the X-Factor franchise in China.

Meanwhile, The Voice of China, which shows on Zhejiang Satellite TV (ZJTV), has topped the ratings for two consecutive years.

The Chinese government regularly bemoans what it sees as the rising level of vulgarity in domestic TV programming, while trying to keep overseas shows to a minimum.

Overseas formats cannot be aired during primetime -- from 7:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. -- within the year they are imported. And only one domestic musical talent show will be approved every three months by the administration to be aired during primetime, according to the new guidelines. 

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The new order is aimed at pushing domestically produced and "morality-building programs," the state-backed People's Daily reported. The vacated slots will have to be filled with news, education programs and service shows, according to the state directive.

The government watchdog has ordered broadcasters to air at least 30 minutes of domestically made documentaries between 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., and 30 minutes of children’s programs or cartoons between 8 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. every day.

"It is really a headache on how we can make up for the seven and a half hours of time. Many TV stations are used to airing TV dramas, shows and films," one TV station staffer told China's Southern Metropolis Daily.

The People's Daily quoted Liu Yuan, deputy director of the chief editing office with Jiangsu Satellite TV, as admitting that the new regulations would make it tougher for them, while Wu Chaoyang, publicity director of Shanghai’s Dragon TV, told the newspaper that the television station has always tried to localize overseas programs and already has four and a half hours of news programs daily.