Web Giants Fight Amid TV Entertainment Purge (Updated)

Chinese television broadcasters have implemented deep cuts to their lineup of prime-time entertainment programming, reducing the number of such shows from 126 to 38 in order to comply with tough new government restrictions that became effective on Sunday. From The Wall Street Journal:

The rule, first announced in October, is targeted at what Chinese regulators have called “excessive entertainment and a trend toward low taste,” to address the rise of talent shows, dating shows and other such programming aired by China’s tightly regulated, but increasingly competitive, regional satellite broadcasters. Authorities also encouraged broadcasters to air more news and educational programming.

“Satellite channels have started to broadcast programs that promote traditional virtues and socialist core values,” Xinhua on Tuesday cited China’s broadcasting regulator as saying.

The rule is part of a broad government effort to take firmer control of China’s media landscape, an effort that also includes the nation’s freewheeling Internet culture. The Internet aspect marks a recognition by policy makers of the Web’s rising power in a country with few other public national forums for discussing issues of the day. The media part, while targeting low-brow trends, also shows China’s rising interest in developing its own soft power—in the arts, media and culture—to compete with the likes of Hollywood as the nation looks to take on a broader global role.

(Update: While this announcement from the State Administration on Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has not been made public, Rogier Creemers has obtained and translated a copy on his blog, China Copyright and Media.)

Television viewers have looked to the Internet for their entertainment fix amid the crackdown on state TV content, and a legal battle has ensued between online giants Youku.com and Tudou over allegations that they have stolen material from each other. From NPR:

The conflict between Youku.com Inc. and Tudou Inc. is part of a struggle for dominance in an online market with nearly 400 million viewers and dozens of privately owned outlets that might represent the future of China’s video watching and a lucrative advertising stream.

“Everybody is shooting for that golden demographic — the young people who are just out of school, have a lot of disposable income and that watch online video instead of television,” said David Wolf, a marketing consultant in Beijing.

Video websites, with looser controls, show dramas and comedies from the United States, Taiwan and Europe and their own programs. Viewers can download shows to watch on mobile phones during their morning subway ride.

Neither the government nor private researchers have reported on how many online viewers might have abandoned state TV outright.

“We all know it’s taking place but nobody wants to go out and publicize the data,” said Wolf, chairman of Wolf Group Asia. “The online video guys are terrified that if there are statistics that show the ‘golden demographic’ dropping TV to watch online video, then the government is going to come after them.”

See also recent CDT coverage of efforts by the Chinese government to overhaul reality television programming.