Streaming platforms face new, heavier restrictions from government watchdog

Updated 2017-01-19 10:01:24 Global Times

While 2016 saw an explosion of online variety shows in the Chinese mainland, that may change this year as Chinese media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), has started tightening regulations on Internet productions.

Hints of an impending crackdown on online productions could be seen in 2016, as quite a few popular online dramas and variety shows were suddenly removed from their platforms with no notice or explanation whatsoever.

In December 2016, SAPPRFT released new regulations for online productions that require variety shows be approved by the organization before production begins.

These new rules are sure to have an impact on the wild land of the Chinese Internet.

Too bold for China?

The arrival of these regulations may largely be due to the controversial nature of online dramas and variety shows. For example, three online variety shows that were pulled down recently, S-style Show, Black White Planet and Hello Gorgeous, rose to popularity due to the outspoken nature of their topics.

Bold discussions and novel formats have helped most of today's online variety shows stand out from traditional shows on broadcast TV, yet critics have begun to wonder if some of them have gone too far in their pursuit of ratings.

The S-style Show, hosted by famous Taiwan star Dee Hsu, is one example of this. After the show began airing on streaming platform iQiyi in August, it quickly caught people's attention with its high-profile guests. However, many considered the hostess' interactions with male stars as being too"steamy" and "vulgar."

Roast! is another case.

The show was the Chinese version of U.S. comedy series Comedy Central Roast, which, for each episode, invites a celebrity on the show so a panel of comedians can make fun of them.

Premiering on July 7, the show quickly reached 30 million total views in three days. However, even though some viewers felt the Chinese version didn't go as far as the original U.S. show, the use of sharp, bold and sometimes even dirty language spelled the end of the show after only four days.

Online variety explosion

Many see the debut of the Dapeng Talk Show on Sohu TV in 2007 as the beginning of online variety shows in the mainland, but it wasn't until after iQiyi aired its debate show You Can You BIBI in 2014 that they exploded in number.

"The number of online variety shows in 2015 grew by 104 percent year-on-year. By July 2016, the number of new programs reached 26, bringing the total number of online variety shows to 93, almost equaling the 96 such shows produced in the entirety of 2015," writes a July 2016 report from the Beijing-based Legal Mirror newspaper.

The rise in online variety shows hasn't been limited to number only.

While early online variety shows were often produced on small budgets and didn't feature much in the way of big league stars, recent shows have boasted A-list talent, top production teams and big budgets.

The S-style Show, for instance, didn't just star Hsu, but was also produced by the same team that worked on her Kangsi Coming, her hit Taiwan talk show that ran from 2004 to 2016.

Other shows that feature famous hosts includes Youku's Mars Intelligence Agency, which is hosted by mainland star Wang Han, and Mango TV's Crime Scene, which brings together variety show star He Jiong and famed CCTV host Sa Beining.

According to reports, Crime Scene's first 14-episode season had a total production budget of 100 million yuan (.56 million).

"Previously, a show consisted of a man and a chair, but in May [2016], Tencent Video announced that it was investing 1 billion yuan into online variety shows," writes a report from jiemian.com.

Keeping a closer eye

Going hand-in-hand with this online boom are stricter content regulations from SAPPRFT.

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