China's top press and media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), has released new guidelines that will place limitations on foreign-adapted TV shows, while promoting original Chinese programming.
The notification, which is set to take effect on July 1, restricts the number of TV shows based on foreign formats, such as The Voice of China and Running Man, that a broadcaster can air during prime time (19:30 to 22:30) to two per year and limits the number of new foreign adapted shows that a broadcaster can import into China to one new show a year. Additionally, any new shows cannot be screened during prime time in its first year.
The guidelines also include stricter regulations for bringing foreign-based shows to the small screen. According to the new regulations, broadcast stations need to submit any foreign-based program (both new shows and old) to local provincial regulators for review at least two months before they air. Once shows pass this initial review, they also must be submitted to SAPPRFT for final review. No programs will be permitted to air without approval from both offices.
Shows that are co-developed with foreign institutions, feature foreigners in major staff positions or in leading roles will also be treated as foreign-adapted programs if the IP rights for the show is shared with any foreign entity.
Any violation of these regulations will lead to the removal of the program and the broadcaster losing the right to broadcast any foreign-adapted programs for the entirety of the following year.
While shows, especially reality shows, based on foreign programs have become extremely popular in the Chinese mainland in recent years, regulators have criticized some TV stations for relying too much on imported programs.
Stating that "only self-innovated Chinese-style TV programs featuring the inheritance and characteristics of Chinese culture can best carry on the Chinese Dream, socialist core values, patriotism and China's exquisite traditional culture," the notification said that SAPPRFT will work to promote original Chinese programs through channels such as awards and giving priority access to prime time slots.
The new notice has led to controversial reactions at home.
Zhou Xing, a professor at the School of Art and Communication at Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times that the new SAPPRFT policy is both necessary and relevant during a time when small screens are flooded with franchised reality shows and variety shows from foreign countries such as South Korea and Japan.
"It helps encourage local producers to focus more on original programs instead of purchasing new copyrighted ones from abroad."
When asked about the possible negative impacts on existing TV programs, Zhou said that under the new ban, it's only natural for the industry to encounter problems over the short-term, such as a drop in audiences numbers or losing out on investment. However, from a long-term perspective, the reduction of imported foreign programs should help cut production costs and facilitate the establishment of mechanisms that will encourage original programing.
The new policy is a clear attempt to regulate the excessive amount of foreign IP reality shows in China, but its impact on online streaming platforms is still unclear.
"The new ban targets TV programs and therefore, does little to impact online streaming websites," said Luo Ming, vice director of the R&D Section under v.qq.com's Variety Show Department.
"But it will definitely influence our decision to cooperate with TV as regulations tighten."
While the changes the regulations will bring are sure to have studios scrambling, this push for original programing comes as good news for local producers who are working on Chinese programing.
"It will definitely encourage more producers to dive head first into the development of local-based TV programs," a program director of a well-known China-made job hunting show who wished to remain anonymous, told the Global Times.
He added that based on his own experiences working on projects adapted foreign shows for China, many foreign programs do not necessarily fit the tastes of Chinese audiences. However, he admitted that foreign programs did appeal more to investors than local brands.
The guidelines have already caught the attention of foreign media as they are sure to impact investment in the Chinese market.
In many cases the response has been negative.
A Wall Street Journal article on the guidelines starts off with the line: "China's media regulator is doubling down on rules to cleanse China's airwaves of foreign influence."
Meanwhile an article on Reuters wrote that, "Chinese officials often trumpet cultural reforms in a bid to widen the global reach of their country's culture and arts, and boost its soft power."
Also worth noticing is the date these new regulations take effect - July 1, CPC Founding Day.
This is not the first time SAPPRFT has issued rules and regulations that go into effect on July 1.
Earlier this month, SAPPRFT released the Notification on the Management of Mobile Game Publishing, which requires all mobile games to be submitted for approval from regulatory authorities before they can be publishing online.
While last year, the administration turned its focus on radio and TV shows use of celebrity guests to attract audiences: The regulations banned news reporting, commentary and interview programs from bringing in unqualified "guest hosts."