Video sites must apply for permits

China has issued rules for private companies operating video websites, allowing existing sites to continue to operate but posing obstacles for new sites, such as YouTube, to break into the country.

Under the regs, sites established before Jan. 31 must steer clear of porn and other sensitive areas.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and Ministry of Information Industry (MII) said any sites planning to offer video content must obtain a permit from the government.

Licenses for video sites now seeking to go online in China will be restricted to state-owned and state-controlled companies.

“Websites that were established before the regulation took effect and did not have a bad record (in broadcasting illegal content) are qualified to continue their business,” said Sarft.

While it is not entirely clear what the rules ultimately will entail, it looks fairly likely that foreign operators such as YouTube will need to buy a license from a current operator or cooperate with a state-owned company if they want to break into the China market.

The rules are broadly in line with an ongoing tightening of controls on the media but do allow existing video sites, such as Tudou, Mofile, 56 and Youku to continue operating. These sites claim up to 100 million viewers a day, which puts them in direct competish with state pubcasters.

An unidentified official quoted by the Xinhua news agency said the regulation “aimed to create a clean and healthy online environment, especially for the young, and to protect copyrights.”

The move was “conducive to the development of the Internet culture with Chinese characteristics,” the official said.

Most of the content on the hundreds of video sites is amateur video. The format has proven enormously popular in China, home to 210 million Netizens and expected to overtake the U.S. this year as the country with the world’s biggest Internet population. Venture capitalists have been busily investing in these sites.

The regs stem from a ruling issued on Dec. 29, when the two ministries said websites that provide video programming or allow users to upload videos in China must obtain a government license, and applicants must either be state-owned or state-controlled companies.

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