China’s entertainment watchdog tightens grip on Internet series

By Xiong Yuqing Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-26 18:38:01

Not long after two versions of its final episode were released, LeTV's online drama Go Princess Go was removed on January 20. Involving bisexual romance and time travel, the show proved extremely popular, gaining a total of  2.7 billion views across 35 episodes. 

LeTV announced that the drama had only been removed temporarily and would be released again after undergoing some changes.

LeTV's Go Princess Go is not the only online series that has been taken down. At least six other popular online dramas, including iQiyi's The Lost Tomb, Tencent's Death Notify and Sohu's Wu Xin: The Monster Killer, have been pulled for containing indecent, violent, pornographic or superstitious content. 

This is not the first time that online dramas have been removed. Both Di'er Meng and Zaixian Ai were removed in 2011 for the sexual nature of the dialogue, Dongbei Wangshi was pulled in 2012 for including criminal-related content and some episodes of Diors Man were removed in 2014 for vulgar content.

Unlike TV shows, which have to undergo review by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) before they are shown on broadcast stations, online dramas are usually reviewed after they are released. For the most part, SAPPRFT, usually requires producers and streaming sites to censor these online series for offensive content themselves, and will suspend the licenses of any company's who break the rules. 

A still from Go Princess Go Photo: Courtesy of LeTV

According to Weibo account "Hunan TV Mangguolao," two of the recently removed series may never see the light of day again, while the others are being given the chance to modify their content so they can be resubmitted to SAPPRFT.  

A source speaking to the Shanghai Morning Post said that SAPPRFT plans on strengthening censorship of online series, bringing them up to the same standards that exist for TV series. However, many industry insiders find this doubtful, as the huge amount of online series would make this difficult to put into practice.

While the removal of these shows has cast an icy shadow across the online series industry, several traditional TV series producers have shown their support for the action. Zheng Xiaolong, the director of The Legend of Mi Yue, posted on Sina Weibo on January 20 that online and TV series should be held to the same standards when it comes to censorship.

While no one can deny that there are a lot of problems that can be found among Chinese online series, but on the whole these low-cost shows allow producers to take risks that other studios would avoid, which in turn has helped the various streaming sites from becoming homogenized.

Some experts take the stance that online series are the best weapons different streaming sites have to compete with each other. This competition is healthy for the industry and good for audiences as it encourages the development of different genres that fit the tastes of different audiences. Therefore, if movies, TV series and online series were brought under the same standards, this would only end up stifling the still developing market for online dramas.

This could end up being a huge blow against these series not just creatively but financially as well.

Although cheaply made, many of these online series still suffer from low profit as online streaming sites are still feeling their way around when it comes to finding a successful business model. As such financially successful shows are still in the minority.

Of course the industry is still developing. Although currently dependent on more vulgar content to get by, as more investment pours into these shows, the quality of the entire industry is sure to improve as it continues to mature.

"Online series are the future. In less than two or three years, high quality online series are sure to succeed when it comes to online traffic and audience ratings. Eventually, revenue earned from advertisements or licensing agreements will cover the costs of production in their entirety," Ma Zhongjun, the director of production studio Ciwen Media, pointed out.

Newspaper headline: Go princess gone

Posted in: TV

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