Grab another drink, everyone, because it sounds like the party is nearly over. SARFT, China’s
fun police film censorship bureau is finally extending its black, dead hand warm embrace to online video sites, wrapping up their heretofore-uncensored films and series in a fun-smothering bearhug of censorship an embrace of harmony.
A SARFT spokesman announced yesterday that original drama series and films on video websites like Youku and Tudou are mostly great, but that some don’t live up to government quality standards, citing violations such as repeated curse words, violence, sexuality, and excessive enjoyability (OK, they didn’t really say that last one). SARFT will thus step in and begin to regulate original productions that are broadcast online. In the future, original productions destined for the internet will need to be approved by SARFT before they can be broadcast just like everything else.
SARFT explained the move as response to “outcry from internet users” and “industry needs.” I have a feeling the latter played a larger role than the former, primarily because the former doesn’t seem to exist. (Yes, I’m sure there a few crazies out there, but there’s certainly no great love for SARFT on China’s internet, nor any deep-seated desire to see even more of the internet censored).
This is bad news for all video sites, but it’s potentially especially bad news for Youku (NYSE:YOKU), which has had thus far had more success than any of its competitors in producing interesting original programming. Presumably this SARFT announcement means we can look forward to online programming quickly becoming as dull and lifeless as most television programming, which SARFT has been doing its damnedest to suck the fun out of for quite some time now.
We contacted Youku for this story; the company declined to comment.
The only possible silver lining is that it’s not entirely clear how SARFT plans to evaluate the productions. There’s some chance it will merely be tweaking the existant self-review system, and it also could implement different standards for online productions that allow a little more leeway. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.
It’s also not clear exactly how far SARFT could eventually take this. Obviously original productions from all the major video sites will be affected immediately, but what about user-submitted content? At what level of production will videos officially need to be cleared with SARFT before they can be broadcast? It doesn’t seem like SARFT has its eye on user-generated content just yet, but that seems like the next step in SARFT’s eternal quest to
suck the joy out of clean up Chinese entertainment.
Full disclosure: A year ago, I briefly worked for Youku. However, I currently have no professional connection to, or interests in, the company or any of its competitors.
This article was updated on July 10 at 17:00 to append the disclosure statement I originally forgot to add. Fail! Sorry, folks.