Foreign fury as SARFT bans brands

Restriction will keep premium programs away

BEIJING — China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has angered foreign content providers by banning logos from programs they provide to the territory’s new national cabler.

The logos build a brand for companies who do not yet have landing rights but may one day be licensed to provide wholesale content to cable networks, says Kristian Kender, editor of China Media Monitor, a Beijing-based industry publication.

“Third or fourth-tier content providers are willing to sell old movies or shows with no brand exposure,” a western cable executive adds. “But all premium brands are staying away.”

With SARFT preparing to roll out a nationwide cable network this year, demand for foreign programming to fill the slates of six planned channels has increased.

SARFT aims to have 30 million to 40 million subscribers to the new network within three years. It has not yet announced the content of each channel, but sports, movies and education are believed to be among the subjects most favored.

It also hopes that the cabler will be dominant enough to fight off competition when foreign cable firms get access to the country.

The Chinese regulator is leveraging its position to acquire the programming in an attempt to outflank provincial and local cable operators, who are potential competitors or collaborators.

SARFT does not own the last-mile connections necessary to complete its national network, and state media reports and industry sources say that local and provincial operators are holding out for better terms before joining the venture.

However, they may be more willing to co-operate if the new national cabler has better foreign content, for which they can charge more.

Current rules only allow foreign programming on cable systems for short periods of time.

SARFT officials did not respond to a request for comment.