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China will censor foreign TV shows that stream on video sites

New Chinese broadcast rules are expected to delay foreign TV shows from streaming on Chinese sites so censors can review them.

All foreign shows will now be censored in China
The Daily Telegraph reported that the top broadcasting regulator in China said, in a September statement, all foreign television shows must be approved before they can be posted on video-streaming sites. Chinese media recently issued a draft version of rules from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The new rules will follow the same standards applied to regular TV programming and decree that whole seasons of shows must be reviewed by censors before they can air. While the agency did not provide comment, an official at the regulator confirmed that the draft posted came from them.

The LA Times reported that in addition to the stricter screening rules, the number of foreign TV shows featured on Chinese websites cannot exceed 30 percent of the number of domestic TV shows carried the previous year, noted Beijing News. 

Streaming content treated the same as regular TV programming
Domestic video sites, Youku Tudou and Sohu declined to comment as well, according to the news source. An unnamed executive at one of the major sites confirmed that the company was aware the rules for regular TV programming would be applied to streaming content. Chinese sites currently self-censor content. The new prescreening requirements will probably result in Chinese audiences viewing their preferred foreign shows much later than they are accustomed to. Sometimes foreign shows are available for streaming one day after airing in their home countries, but it is not known how long the lag time will be once the new rules are officially instated. 

For the most part, streaming shows is free for consumers, as site revenue is based on advertising sales. The Daily Telegraph explained that foreign shows, like "Homeland" and "The Big Bang Theory," represent half of popular television content on sites such as Youku Tudou and Sohu. Video sites have competed with each other to win exclusive rights to foreign shows.

Studios do not know how to make sense of the rules
An executive at a foreign studio commented that it is not yet known how the studio will deal with the new regulations, reported The Daily Telegraph. 

"We don't have much of an idea about how the new regulation will impact the business … It really depends on how this regulation will be carried out," said one Hollywood executive, according to the news source.

Analysts and consultants also do not yet understand what inspired the Chinese regulator to adopt the new rules. Lora Chen, president at California-based consultancy, China Media Consulting, said the Chinese government is eager to develop its own local television industry as it has done with the film industry. Chen commented that the new rules will probably slow the growth that foreign TV distributors have achieved in China. Filmmakers and show creators look to the world's most populous country to expand their audiences. Winning the rights to stream shows on video sites is competitive, and one distributor paid nearly $500,000 for a single episode to stream online in China, said Chen, reported the news source.

Consumers are upset by the expected delays
China's video sites may not be significantly impacted by the new rules. The news source noted that revenue from the video streaming sites climbed 42 percent year over year to $2.1 billion in 2013 according to Chinese consultancy iResearch. Online consumers were upset, however, that they may not get to watch their favorite shows in the time-frames they would like. One TV fan from Shanghai expressed his discontent.

"I'm already used to watching 'The Arrow' every Thursday and 'Z Nation' every Saturday … I can't stand having to wait one to two months before catching up with my favorite shows," said Wu Renchu, reported The LA Times.

Despite consumer concerns, in China, the greater good always wins out over the interest of the public. In the eyes of the government, censoring foreign TV shows is for the greater good – and so it shall be.

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