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China orders crackdown on popular TV shows

Posted by Author on October 26, 2011

Sick of tacky reality shows with egotistic wannabes? Tired of formulaic talent contests for shameless show-offs? If you feel the prime time schedules are packed with lowest common denominator viewing, you are not alone.

Chinese officials share your pain and have ordered a curb on popular entertainment shows. Out go sexy dating shows and lurid programmes on crime. In come art appreciation, astronomy and weekly “morality building shows”.

The new edict from the state broadcasting watchdog is expected to come into force on 1 January. Provincial channels will be allowed to show no more than two entertainment shows in the “golden time” between 7.30pm and 10pm, according to a report on the Chinese NetEase website. Particular types of programmes, such as dating shows, will be strictly limited; no more than 10 talent contests will be permitted nationwide per year, and each must be of a different kind.
“The State Administration of Radio Film and Television also encourages [broadcasters] to produce harmonious, healthy and mainstream programmes, such as culture and art appreciation, history, geography and astronomy, and [those addressing] public welfare,” the report added.

Each channel will be obliged to broadcast a “morality building” programme each week. The number of Taiwanese performers will also be limited because of Taiwanese controls on mainland performers, the report said.

No one at SARFT was available for comment, but an industry source confirmed the order and said the import of foreign formats was also likely to be limited. Chinese versions of Strictly Come Dancing, Top Gear and America’s Got Talent have all proved popular in recent years.

TV bosses have already axed the hugely popular Super Girl singing contest, promising to replace it with programmes focused on housework and public safety. Some believe that officials are seeking to protect state broadcaster CCTV as it loses viewers to slicker, livelier provincial upstarts such as Hunan and Jiangsu Television. According to the NetEase report, the rules do not apply to CCTV1, although that may be because its output is already more staid than that of its rivals.

Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting, said he had heard of similar edicts being sent to film companies.”People were told by SARFT that they needed to do less entertainment content and improve the balance, with more wholesome content or content conveying messages endorsed by government organs,” said Natkin, who focuses on media and telecoms.

“The way we heard it framed was that people feel increasingly that Chinese society has no moral compass. Contributing to the problem is the fact that the news and wholesome programming are getting drowned out by excessive entertainment programming with a commercial focus.

“[Official concerns] are that left entirely to the market, there are no limits to the levels that programme producers will sink to as they try to attract new audiences and good ratings.”

Dating show You Are The One became last year’s runaway hit, spawning a legion of copycats – and concerns that it was encouraging the increasing materialism of China’s young people.

When one contestant told a potential match that “I would rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on your bicycle,” the remark became notorious. Officials stepped in and the programme reduced its focus on the contestants’ occupations and assets, instead drawing attention to their devotion to family duty. Authorities have also encouraged talent shows to include migrant workers as well as middle-class wannabes, in a bid to promote inclusiveness.

But attempts to raise the moral standards of broadcasting in the past have often resulted in a decline in viewers.

Bill Bishop, an independent internet analyst based in Beijing, said video-sharing sites hosting foreign reality shows may receive a boost in traffic, and suggested that authorities might seek to curb this. “If they are neutering traditional television, you have to wonder why they are not going to do something about online [access] – at the moment there’s all the stuff that doesn’t get broadcast,” he said.

Officials vowed to curb “vulgar” and “low-brow” reality programming four years ago, seeing off series such as Angels Love Beauty, where women competed to win plastic surgery.

Reducing viewers’ appetite for such shows may be difficult, however.

-Sourece: The Guardian

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