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2013-10-25
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Regulation 2.0

Global Times (2013-10-25 P18)
By Global Times
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New government regulations affect the future of reality entertainment programs, including (clockwise from top left) <em>Chinese Idol</em>, <em>I Am a Singer</em>, <em><em>The Voice</em> of China</em> and <em>The X Factor</em>, in 2014. Photos: CFP

New government regulations affect the future of reality entertainment programs, including (from top) Chinese Idol, I Am a Singer, The Voice of China and The X Factor, in 2014. Photos: CFP

As the end of autumn approaches, most reality shows on TV have already drawn to a close.

The battle between different channels, each wielding their own entertainment programs, has never been so intense. Each offers a different take on reality TV: talent shows, singing competitions, blind dates, job seeking and even adventure sports like diving. The Voice of China, Super Boy, China's Got Talent, The X Factor and Hero of Hanzi all garnered strong buzz this summer.

As channels fight to come out on top, a new regulation has come down to curb the amount of entertainment programs on TV, released on October 12 and affecting all satellite TV programming in 2014.

What does the regulation say?

The new regulations issued by the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SGAPPRFT) listed many revised rules for satellite TV stations on how to arrange their programming schedules. Three items in particular stood out to the public.

According to the South Metropolis Daily, the new regulations shrink the allowance for foreign programs and attach more importance to domestic production and innovation. To implement that ideal, only one foreign program can be introduced on each satellite TV station and that program should not be broadcast during prime time, between 7 pm and 10 pm.

The new regulations also tackle the current "excessive entertainment" situation, as well the amount of money used on these often-glitzy shows. SGAPPRFT will select one singing talent show to be broadcast during prime time. All the rest will not be shown in the hours between 7 pm and 10:30 pm.

New regulations also require satellite channels to allocate no less than 30 percent of their weekly airtime to news, economics, culture, science, education and other non-entertainment programming. Moreover, satellite channels must broadcast both domestic documentaries and animation for at least 30 minutes every day.

A cacophony of voices

Taking a look at the shows that were hits this summer, most were foreign programs that were introduced to China, like The Voice of China, The X Factor and I Am a Singer.

Competitive singing shows are relatively easy to produce and receive high ratings. This successful formula led to many copycat programs.

Singing-fatigued audiences welcome the new regulations. According to the Oriental Morning Post, some Internet users said, "Every station is showing singing competitions. We are so bored of this." Those against the regulations argue that what they watch should be chosen by themselves, not anyone else.

Zhejiang Satellite Television, which broadcast the most popular show of its kind, The Voice of China, said they won't be affected by the tightened regulations.

"The new rules aim to stimulate TV stations to develop their programs, and increase the competitiveness," the station told the Oriental Morning Post. The article also said they will keep airing The Voice of China.

Deputy director of Hubei Satellite Television Qi Wen considers this a good opportunity for the station. "This regulation will affect the top-10 stations the most, and this will bring us opportunities. We will have a new round of reforming and rearranging programs," he said in an interview with chinanews.com. Their program Super Star China will continue to air.

Chinanews.com also reported that Hunan Satellite Television says that both of their popular shows, I Am a Singer and Dad! Where Are We Going? will not be affected by the new rules.

Dragon TV said they would strictly adhere to the new rules. "Even the imported programs, like China's Got Talent, are already very localized. And our variety of programs is always abundant, broadcasting four-hour news programs every day for 10 years. Other satellite TV stations can't compare with us on that," Wu Zhaoyang, the Party secretary of Dragon TV, told the South Metropolis Daily.

Encouraging innovation

No matter how broadcasters react, one thing is for sure: The new regulations will force channels to get more creative with their programming.

This summer, 13 music talent shows competed for viewers. Among them, this year's The Voice of China finished on October 7 with a staggering 5.6 audience share. And it still holds the record high 6.1 audience share it captured last year, according to the People's Daily.

Shows like The Voice that import or copy overseas reality shows often perform well with Chinese viewers, but not all succeed. Chinese Idol on Dragon TV received an average share of 1.6. Hunan Satellite Television presented the well-received I Am a Singer, but The X Factor had just a passable performance.

"The craze of importing overseas shows will stop in two or three years," publicity director of The Voice of China, Lu Wei, predicted. "Importing overseas programs needs funding, but the problem is, it won't necessarily be successful. We already have some cases of failure."

He also expressed that the most important part is to let their team learn how a top-notch reality show is produced. "It's like buying a more advanced assembly line. But how to manufacture better products depends on your input, including creation and characters."

"People are rushing to buy [foreign programs]. [But] it's time to shuffle," said Chinese Idol general director Wang Leiqing. "We are taking a look at how many we bought, and how many succeeded."

Whether or not to import foreign programs is not the only problem for stations. The regulation concerning the proportion of content is also a concern.

An employee at a TV station who requested anonymity told the South Metropolis Daily that the station is worried about what to broadcast during the "30 percent" of airtime - about seven hours a day - that must be devoted to educational TV.

"It means we cannot broadcast variety shows, movies, TV series," the source said. "It is frustrating, and we don't have animations as backup. There are dozens of gaps in the schedule we don't know how to fill."

Only the next few months will tell how TV stations will find a way to revise their programming in order to comply with the new rules.

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