Micro-movies and online films have been part of an emerging cultural format that provides a new channel of "cultural construction" for the Chinese, according to the SARFT. However, some of these programs appear to contain scenes of violence, pornography, and inappropriate language.
The SARFT memorandum dictates that online video companies shoulder the responsibility for auditing, pre-screening and reviewing all content before broadcast. Companies such as Youku, Tudou, Qiyi, CNTV, and LeTV are required to form an internal team of censors to screen programmes, and relevant government departments will be supervising the censorship rules, but remained ambiguous on how they will do so.
These measures come as Chinese online video sites start to produce more original content and short films by renowned movie directors, in response to the high cost of buying foreign-produced programs. Youku-Tudou did not get back to Campaign Asia-Pacific with comments at press time.
SARFT is insisting on the dissemination of correct mainstream values, which are the "foothold of the government in developing policies". The requirements for online video companies are intended to assume the "social responsibility of mass media" and to "create a civilised and healthy online environment".
Yong Yuan, managing director of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising Shanghai, told Campaign Asia-Pacific that the tighter leash is not unexpected, but any impact on the advertising industry remains to be seen. "Clients and agencies are still free to produce branded content," Yuan said. "The only sensitive issue is when that branded content explores a perennial societal problem that the government doesn't wish to be discussed publicly".
The state has said it is responding to netizens who have reacted strongly to online videos so "the physical and mental health of young people can be protected".
Tony Chen, president of GroupM Interaction China, views the move as a positive for the sector. The SARFT statements put to rest any remaining doubts advertisers may have had concerning the legality of the business models of video site operators, he said.
Chen also does not foresee any major disruptions in the flow of content, adding that the agency's online video partners have confirmed that they already have rigorous censorship systems in place.