Battle for the small screen

By Han Bingbin ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-04-10 07:13:36

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Calling self-made content "a true sign of maturity", Youku Tudou's chief content officer Zhu Xiangyang says that this year the company will invest 300 million yuan ($48 million) in making its own programs.

Sohu will reportedly invest twice as much this year and aims to raise its view counts of self-made content fourfold, which will include full-length TV series and reality shows made by local talents and top South Korean production teams.

One of Sohu's self-made miniseries, Diors Man, now in its third season, parodies pop culture and topical social issues with cheeky humor. It has already been viewed 700 million times, though its production quality is often questioned.

Tencent video and have also been making some daring bids for viewers, producing ghost-themed miniseries, which cannot be broadcast on TV because of official censorship.

"More than 90 percent of what we see now on video websites is material from TV stations," says Zhu with EntGroup. "As video websites increase self-made content and as their quality continues to mature, traditional TV programs will be no longer be irreplaceable."

But that will take a long time, says Peng Kan, consultant with Beijing-based Legend Media, which specializes in TV industry development strategy consulting.

What some video websites are now planning to invest in self-made content can hardly be called "big moves", Peng says. China's TV industry is booming and high-rating channels are willing to spend as much as 250 million yuan on a single talent show.

TV stations and video websites don't necessarily have to be in a competitive relationship, Peng says. TV stations are expected to adopt more Internet-based thinking by, for example, jointly attracting investment, co-producing programs and sharing audience ratings with video websites.

Some TV stations are already trying to do so. Henan TV co-produced Chinese Character Hero with, and Jiangsu TV is ready to co-produce a reality show with Tencent video. Unlike in the United States where some TV channels and websites easily share resources as they're under one group, Peng says, State-owned Chinese TV channels and private Internet companies find no easy way to cooperate.

The biggest advantages video websites now enjoy over TV stations are that their content is not subject to the direct examination of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and neither do they have a quota restriction for purchasing overseas programs.

Some Hollywood distributors thus treat video websites as a new channel to break into the Chinese market, and programs are sometimes sold to China at lower prices than even some Chinese shows, says Peng.

But a change of policy could deprive video websites of these advantages.

The Hollywood Reporter recently reported the administration's policy of "censor first, broadcast later", by citing the administration's online statements that include requiring online content to be examined by qualified personnel who "have been trained by state or provincial Internet video and audio programs industry association". It said the policy "could mean tighter control over online distribution of Hollywood content in China".

But Peng doesn't see restrictive policies coming into force that easily.

He says the supervision of video websites is still a very complicated matter as it involves both State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The administration wants to supervise the content, says Peng, while the ministry cares more about network flow and is less concerned with content restrictions.

"The administration has long wanted to apply its regulation and management policies on film and television to online videos. But because of the conflict, it has not been successful so far," Peng says.

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