23 March 2019
State-run CCTV will air The Big Bang Theory but Chinese online video sites have been ordered not to offer that same content. Photo: CBS
State-run CCTV will air The Big Bang Theory but Chinese online video sites have been ordered not to offer that same content. Photo: CBS

Big Brother plays the game and sets the rules

In the broadcast industry, it’s hard to compete with Big Brother, who is both a player and the one who sets the rules of the game.

Over the weekend, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), the country’s broadcast regulator, issued a notice asking that four US serial dramas – The Big Bang Theory {生活大爆炸}, The Good Wife {傲骨賢妻}, The Practice {律師本色} and NCIS {海軍罪案調查處} — be removed from online video sites, without giving any reason.

This is quite a big blow for major online video sites which have invested substantially in overseas TV shows, including Youku, Sohu and Tencent’s QQ Video.

The government edict also perplexed many TV fans: the four American shows are ordinary sitcoms or dramas with little or no sex and violence that censors abhor.

Then came the answer to the puzzle. The state-run China Central Television (CCTV) is planning to air The Big Bang Theory on its pay-per-view channel, People’s Daily reported.

There’s an old Chinese saying that perfectly describes the situation: “The magistrates are free to start a fire, but the common folk are forbidden even to light a lamp.”

In fact, CCTV has finished the subtitles for the first season of The Big Bang Theory, says an employee at CBM which did the translations for the drama series. CBM promises to do its best to “retain the humor and bring a positive, healthy and clean version of [the show] to the audience”.

Some industry insiders said they saw this coming, as the fast-rising industry has stolen viewers from official channels.

“The Big Bang Theory is a high-hit-rate drama, so if the show can’t be re-launched within a short period of time, both audiences and advertisers will walk away from those sites, which is very negative for the industry,” one Ms Ceng, a TV show merchandiser from an online video site, told Beijing Business Today.

Fans of the US drama series are already whining about the government decision, saying that blocking the show has made life even more monotonous. And they’re not happy that CCTV will air the show because the state broadcaster is notorious for its heavy hand in editing serial dramas and poor translations.

Currently, CCTV is broadcasting Games of Thrones, a hit fantasy drama series. Audiences have left angry messages on social platforms, saying they find the Chinese dubbing of the show quite annoying.

This is not the first time CCTV has aired US TV shows in its bid to attract more viewers. It has also broadcasted Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, but most Chinese audiences prefer to watch the original, undubbed versions.

Will SARFT’s ban be expanded to cover other American-made dramas? It is hard to tell. As it did not provide any reason for pulling the plug on the four drama series, we can’t be certain if the ban had anything to do with inappropriate content.

In March, the regulator issued new regulations aimed at strengthening the supervision of audio-visual programs such as online serial dramas and microfilms as well as broadcasting entities, noting that authorities will closely monitor TV shows produced at home and abroad.

As the government tightens its grip on the industry, companies that have invested much in acquiring broadcasting rights for overseas shows will be hit hardest.

Some industry players say they are adopting a wait-and-see approach, thinking carefully before buying more drama shows from the Western countries.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]



EJ Insight writer

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