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2011/10/26 / Horace

Impact of 限娱令, what does it mean?

I have reported on Shanghaiist that SARFT will impose a series of restrictions on entertainment shows on China’s provincial satellite TV, but what does it mean?

Different Systems

To answer the question, I have to start with China’s broadcasting system, which is very different from that of the US and the UK.

Chinese TV stations are set up according to administrative divisions, that is, a province has its provincial TV, a city has its municipal TV and the whole country has its own national TV, that is, China Central Television (CCTV). There is no other national TV network than CCTV in China.

However, all provincial TV stations can still have a national audience via satellite. Usually, a provincial TV station will set one channel (sometimes more than one) as a satellite channel and transmit its signals via satellite, and people can watch these satellite channels nationally.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) monitors all radio and TV programs as well as all films. Although not all programs have to be approved by SARFT, SARFT does have to power to pull any program off the air as long as it feels the program inappropriate.

Fierce Competition

Except Chongqing TV, all TV and radio stations in China, including CCTV  are commercially funded, heavily relying on advertisement revenues. Usually, satellite channels of provincial TV stations are the cash cows because they can have a national audience.

Some provincial TV stations are doing really well. For example, Hu’nan TV, Jiangsu TV and Zhe Jiang TV are doing extremely well in entertainment shows. Taking Hu’nan TV as an example, it successfully introduced American Idol and started its Super Girl contest, in which many singers like Jane Zhang张靓颖, Chris Lee李宇春 have become national idols.

However, CCTV is falling behind. It did launch its own talent show “Dream China”梦想中国, but never caught up with its rivals in viewer numbers, and its winners rarely became famous. Dream China has been cancelled since 2007.

Now, with more and more entertainment shows on provincial TVs, such as Liaoning TV introducing X-Factor, Dragon TV introducing Britain’s Got Talent and Dance with Starts, CCTV’s market on entertainment shows keeps shrinking. Entertainment shows also affects the viewer numbers of other CCTV programs.

By the SARFT decision which limits entertainment shows on its local rivals, CCTV can catch a breath, and its pressure could be eased since CCTV is not affected by the SARFT restriction and can still produce entertainment shows as many as it wants.

Moral Concerns

It is known to all that China is witnessing a decline in morality, such as Good Samaritan deeds often result in the unjust treatment of the helper.

Also, controversial figures on TV shows are also challenging Chinese traditional values.  For example, in 2010, in the dating show “If You are the One”非诚勿扰, in which men appear on stage waiting for women to pick them, Ma Nuo, one of the ladies on the show, said “I would rather cry in a BMW rather than smile on a bicycle”. Her words appalled many because she was so frank in marrying money rather than someone she loved.

SARFT seems to believe that all such shows are misleading viewers to revolt against traditional values and morals, although those controversial ideas are commonplace in China. The censorship agency wants programs to “lead mainstream culture”.

The SARFT decision requires all provincial satellite TVs to have at least one moral program in the decision.

However, there is also a report that a controversial talk show on TV was just a forgery and farce to get more people watching the station.

Shijiazhuang TV once put on a show called “I am the grandson of my son”. In this show, a “son” maltreated his “father”, but his “father” was so submissive. Later, media found that both the “son” and the “father” were just hired actors.


Landscape changing

The SARFT decision will not necessarily draw viewers to CCTV because people can turn to the Internet for what they want. Fewer and fewer people are watching TV these days, especially the young generation. Youku, Tudou and other video websites can launch their own shows since they do not have to compete so hard with TV stations after the SARFT decision takes effect.

Anhui TV and some other stations which mainly depend on airing soap operas will not be severely affected since they are not reliant on entertainment shows.

But for stations like Hu’nan TV, Jiangsu TV and others who rely on entertainment shows to draw audience and advertisers, they have to do something. They have to cancel some programs and then try to keep their best shows on prime time.

Another strategy is to move some shows to the noon, when there are still many viewers though not as many as in the prime time.

It might also be a chance for stations that are lagging behind in entertainment shows to catch up. Since some popular programs may not be shown on their original channels, other channels may hire the staff of these programs and move those programs to theirs. There have been reports that other stations are trying to get staff from Hu’nan TV to their places. With proper strategy, not only these programs which are intended to disappear revive again, but also those who are not good at entertainment shows can have good programs as well.

After all, the impact is still to be seen.


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