China takes steps to curb foreign content on video sites

BEIJING, Sept 5 (Reuters) - China repeated its intention to tighten control of foreign content on online streaming sites, a move that will require websites that stream foreign films and television shows to register their content for approval in advance.

If websites do not seek approval for their foreign programmes by April 1, 2015, they won’t be able to broadcast them online, said the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) on Friday, which first unveiled its tougher stance earlier this year.

There were signs of a boom in online foreign TV and film content in China last year, where traditional broadcasting and films allowed to air in cinemas are heavily controlled. The crackdown also comes amidst wider curbs on freedom of speech online in China.

Leading online video sites include those run by Sohu.Com Inc , Baidu Inc’s iQiyi, Tencent Holdings Ltd and Youku Tudou Inc.

Last month, state media reported that Tencent had been forced to suspend more than 300 accounts on its WeChat mobile messaging app and had banned around 40 others as government restrictions on spreading political news online took effect.

This week, the Wall Street Journal and later Bloomberg reported that Chinese regulators were planning to impose a 30 percent limit on the proportion of foreign TV content allowed on video streaming sites.

“I would say it’s the usual cycle,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting. “The regulator comes out with some regulations but leaves them a little vague.”

This leads to a situation where the industry being regulated will push back until their actions are too far off the originally issued regulation, so the regulator will reiterate or add new requirements or deadlines, said Natkin.

Some industry experts think that the attention from SAPPRFT can be drawn back to traditional broadcasters, whose advertising businesses have suffered as people switch to watching programmes online.

In April, four U.S. television shows, The Big Bang Theory, The Practice, The Good Wife and NCIS, were ordered removed from video websites by the government. Soon after, The Big Bang Theory resurfaced on official state broadcaster CCTV.

Editing by Elaine Hardcastle