Everett Wilkinson | What’s Left to Watch on Chinese TV?

Everett Wilkinson — Invigorating as it is to watch hours on end of political leaders doing what they do, too much of a good thing is just that.

And after new regulations on what can be shown on broadcast and online TV dramas in China came into force recently, it is not clear that much more than the official daily activities of Party leaders is left to watch. So drastic and sudden are the changes that highly popular programs were thrown off their network overnight. What these regulations ban cover many elements that are integral to a compelling drama:

No smoking
 No drinking
 No affairs, one night stands
 No homosexuality
 No vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content
 No displays of violence or murder
 No sharing of police techniques that might assist criminals
 No ambiguity between truth and falsehood, good and evil
 No drugs, alcoholism or gambling
 No vulgar language
 Nothing to contradict accepted historical facts
 And much, much more

Prominent Chinese actors and producers spoke out at the annual session of China’s parliament on this topic over the last few days, talking about the many approvals from multiple ministries that are required to get anything onto the screen.

Yet their criticisms were fairly polite — more about the approval process than the rules and boundaries themselves. Unlikely that anything will change. In the end, there are likely to be fewer viewers which will lead to advertisers accelerating the shift in their spend away from TV and towards online, and then less revenue for the broadcasters themselves.

I do see this as a bit of a risk for the government as it prides itself on its broad based popularity. Many of their consumer-facing initiatives have been framed as populist such as taking on big business, reducing prices, supporting the stock market and bailing out poor consumer investments, overall showing a pretty high sensitivity to broader public opinion. Read More