By Xu Wei
BEIJING, Jan. 4 (Xinhuanet) -- Cleaning up trash TV and promoting original Chinese entertainment is a monumental task, but regulators are trying. Xu Wei looks at the latest edicts that went into effect this week.
While more regulations to improve China’s TV industry go into effect this week, limiting satellite channels to importing only one foreign-format show a year and encouraging more original programming, these augment a raft of controls already in place.
Some observers say numerous and specific regulations on content and time slot, which have been issued since 2002, will improve the quality of Chinese television and make it more creative, educational and morally uplifting.
Others say they limit diversity and will drive viewers away from TV to the Internet where they can download popular shows and to DVD stores where the shows can be purchased.
Limiting wildly popular talent and foreign-format shows is also expected to adversely affect profits.
In October 2013, China’s broadcast regulator announced the latest rules, a so-called “enhanced version of cutback on TV entertainment.” They limit foreign imports by satellite channels to one a year, require that these not be aired in prime time (7:30pm-10pm) during the year when rights are purchased, and stipulate that only one singing talent show, whether Chinese or foreign, be aired during prime time every three months.
The regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, said the restrictions are aimed at “morality-building.”
They are part of China’s ongoing effort to eliminate vulgar shows and mindless content, ranging from dating shows with risque banter that celebrate money to nonsensical time travel dramas (chuan yue ju 穿越剧).
Zhu Hui, a TV producer from Shanghai Media Group, is now working on a reality show about China’s grassroots comedy stars. It starts airing in March on Dragon TV and will run for three months.
Last year Zhu and her team spent weeks studying creative concepts in TV production in the UK, where she also realized that Chinese TV producers can no longer depend on copying successful foreign formats.
“It used to be a short-cut to success, but nowadays only a few new formats have turned out to be globally successful,” she says. “The regulations will surely push domestic TV producers to find a new way out.”
Zhu anticipates that in the future two kinds of programs will become popular in China — one that reflects people’s lives and emotions, another that broadens their horizons.
“We will develop a few more programs that break people’s stereotypes, expand their vision and stay close to real life,” she adds.
The restrictions are considered a major challenge to producers since reality shows and singing competitions are among the top earnings on satellite TV.
Foreign-format shows, including “The Voice of China” and “Chinese Idol,” have been hugely successful, generating revenues of as much as 1 billion yuan (US$165 million) last year. “China’s Got Talent” is also popular.
In the past two years, more than 30 foreign format-based shows have been aired on satellite TV, but only a few domestic shows have achieved wide popularity.
Professor Wu Gang, a TV expert from East China Normal University, says the new policy is a warning against “too much reliance on foreign-format shows and fading creativity in new programs.”
He says the new policy would provide “a chance for transition and innovation.”
Ratings, ratings, ratings
Not all TV viewers are enthusiastic.
Alex Huang, an IT worker in his 30s, is blunt.
“The TV industry should adopt the rule of ‘the survival of the fittest’,” he says.
“To some extent, programs based on successful foreign formats are just like wolves that prey on goats. Without the pressure of enough wolves, the audience will only get non-nutritious, fast-food shows.”
As a result of various regulations, many satellite channels have set up their own R&D departments to develop original, homegrown formats.
In November, the Sichuan TV held the first China Formats Competition. Experts judged them and analyzed successful Western formats.
Pursuit of ratings — the criticism of commercial TV worldwide — is partly responsible for the regulations.
They include curbs on star-making shows that flourished after the popularity of “Super Girl” on Hunan Satellite TV in 2005, generally vulgar entertainment programs, and shows with Hong Kong and Taiwan hosts.
To receive approval to air shows, TV stations have had to shift from prime time to later slots, change the titles and add charitable goals.
For instance, producers of “Chinese Idol” changed the name to “Voice of the Chinese Dream” after President Xi Jinping called on the nation to realize the Chinese Dream.
Regulations of China’s TV industry issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television
2002: The airing of popular Taiwan idol drama “Meteor Garden” is suspended over concern that scenes of violence and high-living by university students would set a bad example.
2004: TV shows and series containing scenes of murder and extreme violence are prohibited during prime time.
2006: To protect the domestic animation industry, foreign cartoons are prohibited during prime time.
2007: Satellite channels are required to broadcast dramas in line with mainstream values during prime time. Vulgar or “obscene” programs about shows such as the hit singing contest “Super Girl” and “My Hero” are not allowed to run for more than six weeks.
Talent show rules ban live SMS voting and scenes of teenage fans, mostly girls, writhing and screaming. They ban scenes that might provoke gossip, such as losing contestants weeping.
2011: Each week, satellite channels may air no more than two entertainment programs during prime time. Each year, no more than 10 talent shows can be aired on domestic TV.
“Uplifting,” educational and patriotic programs about culture, art, history, geography and charity are encouraged. “Incorrect” social and marriage values such as money worship may not be aired in dating shows.
The number and running time of talent, dating, game, talk and reality shows are restricted. The burst of time travel TV dramas was severely criticized, and they fell off.
2012: Foreign TV series and films are banned from prime time.
2013: Each satellite TV station can buy the rights to only one foreign-made program per year. Every three months, only one singing talent show can be aired in prime time.