Earlier this summer, word out of China was that the government was mulling a plan to impose a quota system on the licensing of overseas TV programs by video streaming websites. While media authority SAPPRFT has stopped short of a full-on limit, for now, China’s state-backed news agency Xinhua is reporting that it will henceforth require streaming sites to register for a “publication license” for imported films and TV series. All programs must be registered by March 31, 2015. Those that are not will be pulled from the internet starting on April 1. “Without a publication license, no overseas films or TV series are allowed to run online,” SAPPRFT said in a statement today. A quota could still be on its way, however, and would be unsurprising should it come to pass.
The FT and the Wall Street Journal reported this week that a 30% limit on foreign TV shows is expected to be implemented within days. Compared to linear television, online has been a pretty freewheeling space where American culture has been given a large window of exploitation. In the past year, however, there has been an increase in cracking down on streaming foreign online content, which for many has become the primary source of entertainment. The Communist party is understood to perceive certain foreign programs as a threat, often referred to as “cultural pollution.” The license requirement could now result in increased censorship. SAPPRFT’s statement today said, “We encourage online audio and visual program providers to import, in an appropriate amount, cinema and TV works that are healthy, well-made and showcase good values so as to absorb fine cultural achievements across the globe and meet people’s increasing spiritual and cultural demands.”
A quota could also have implications for video giants like Sohu, Iqiyi, Youku Tudou and Tencent who collectively stream about 400 American and British TV shows (Sherlock is extremely popular, for example.) But the Journal noted that execs said quotas could help bring prices down. Video streaming sites paid 4.2B yuan ($528M) last year to license foreign and domestic programming.
SAPPRFT in April ordered local video sites to halt streaming of some U.S. TV shows including Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife and NCIS. No reason was provided.