China’s Censors Order Removal of Hit Web Series

China’s leading streaming video sites have removed some of the most popular Chinese-made shows on the Internet, following intervention by the country’s censors. The move appears to be a further example of content regulators catching up with technology as it evolves.

Le Eco (formerly known as Le TV) has taken off air its romantic drama “Go Princess Go,” according to investigative online publication Caixin, which said that a total of six shows had been removed. The publication said that Le Eco had three shows taken off air, Tencent two and iQIYI one. The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time section reported that IQIYI has taken off its big budget series “The Lost Tomb.”

Neither Le Eco or iQiyi have responded to multiple calls and emails from Variety.

The shows appear to have been deemed too vulgar, too sexual or dabbling in superstition by the State Administration for Press Publishing Radio Film & Television. “Go Princess Go,” involves a man traveling across time and becoming a woman, while “The Lost Tomb,” involves grave robbing.

China is in the midst of an ongoing crackdown on vulgarity, excess and corruption. Last year SAPPRFT ordered off air one of the country’s most popular TV shows, Hunan TV’s “The Empress of China,” a period drama starring Fan Bingbing, because it showed actresses with too much cleavage. The show reappeared a few weeks later with medium shots re-cropped into facial close-ups that avoided focus on the bust.

While regulators focused their attention on broadcast television first, greater regulatory scrutiny of the online video sector has already been growing. That is a reflection of the medium’s massive popularity and influence. It also reflects the challenge the Internet poses to broadcast TV as the video platforms all become major producers and commissioners of content.

Last year a number of imported U.S. TV shows were ordered off China’s streaming video sites. Regulators then insisted that foreign shows should pass censorship in their entirety before being uploaded, something which prevented day-and-date screening of shows with their airing in overseas markets.

The loss of “The Lost Tomb” would be a significant blow for iQIYI. The in-house developed series has been a key part of its drive to convert casual viewers into paying subscribers. Its members who subscribe get earlier access than those using the advertising-supported section of is platform. Subscribers also have the possibility to binge-watch the entire series.

Le Eco may now “optimize” its “Princess” before attempting to upload it again. The show has been hugely successful with over 2 billion views.

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