China clamps down on popular online video-streaming services

December 20, 2016 by Gerry Shih

Chinese authorities are clamping down on streaming video over social media amid a proliferation of online-only television content and live-streaming.

The State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television is requiring social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo to obtain licenses to broadcast video or audio, while also demanding that content distributed over social media hold traditional broadcast licenses. The new guideline is the latest effort by the media regulator to consolidate control over an explosion of new digital media content that has operated beyond the confines of China's traditional media.

In recent years, a vast cottage industry of high- and low-budget filmmakers, TV producers and even live-streaming individuals have made content for web portals, set-top boxes and social media platforms beyond the purview of China's media censors. The national media regulator took a major step in cracking down on unlicensed programming in 2014, requiring that set-top boxes and streaming websites carry content from only a handful of licensed distributors.

Under the new rules, films and TV series circulated on social media will also fall under the same level of scrutiny and must have the same licenses as for public airing. User-generated political news programs are also forbidden.

The regulations followed new Ministry of Culture rules issued this month requiring live-streaming operators to submit identity papers for their stars and prove that they can censor inappropriate content.

Mobile video consumption has exploded in China, and advertisers in 2016 spent more on digital media than traditional television, according to consultancy eMarketer, raising new challenges for a government that has long been careful about policing online content and discourse.

One of the fastest-growing areas has been live-streaming. Official researchers say that more than 300 million people, or nearly half of China's internet users, used streaming apps in 2016 to watch people singing, pulling stunts or simply going about their everyday lives—and sometimes more.

This year, several high-profile cases of live-streamed sex have caused uproar, while a Beijing couple became a sensation this month when they streamed themselves hiding overnight in an IKEA store. The most popular streamers on services like YY, Yingke and Yizhibo, the mobile app made by the Internet portal Sina, can make tens of thousands of dollars a year, if not more, by collecting spontaneous online donations.

The Cyberspace Administration of China also warned in November that live videos could destabilize national security and social stability by spreading rumors and fraud. The agency has similarly characterized other popular social media platforms to justify greater internet censorship.

Chinese internet games and social networking giant Tencent, which operates WeChat, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Weibo's public relations staff could not immediately be reached.

Explore further: Researchers uncover hidden censorship on Chinese live-streaming apps

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