State Control Tightens Again on Foreign Formats in China


On 17th June, China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT, formerly known as SARFT) has imposed a number of new regulations, further limiting the country's intake of international TV formats.

In the statement titled On Boosting Original Creativity of Television Programmes, it stipulated four major rules that will affect international TV format licensing and local adaptations:

  • All foreign formats licensed to satellite variety channels (including new titles for the current year and previously licensed formats) need to apply for approval at the local provincial arm of SAPPRFT two months before airing. Once the approval is granted, the format needs to register centrally at SAPPRFT. Formats failing to complete these procedures will not be permitted to air.
  • Programmes that are co-developed with international partners, or in which international producers have taken lead or major roles, are considered as foreign formats and will need to apply for approval unless the Chinese partner has full ownership of the IP rights.
  • Satellite variety channels are not allowed to air more than 2 imported formats between 19:30-22:30 each year. Each satellite variety channel is only allowed to air one newly imported format each year, and such programme cannot be broadcast between 19:30-22:30 for its premier year.
  • From 1st July 2016, any newly imported formats that have not been approved and registered with SAPPRFT will be suspended immediately and the responsible channel will face one year ban from airing any imported formats.

The statement announced that “only local original TV programmes in the Chinese cultural tradition can better convey the China Dream, core socialist values, patriotism and Chinese traditions", and that some channels have become 'too dependent on foreign formats". The authority believes these measures will help boost domestic creativity.

The release of these new restrictions caused a major stir in the TV industry, as many see this as a crisis for international format owners and distributors. In interviews with Cool Vision, a leading media industry journal in China, Jean Dong, the CEO of Zespa Media and William Tan, MD of Endemol Shine China, gave their thoughts on this new change in the format industry. Jean Dong talked with Cool Vision about impact and solutions on the same morning when the new restrictions were released.

“The format industry is going to look very different from here on”, says Jean, “for international format creators and owners, it is key to look at all effective ways to protect your formats, as some local producers may see it as a legitimate reason to rip off foreign formats without qualms.” Jean adds, “It is going to be a challenging time which will exclude international companies unless they have a real commitment to the Chinese market and are ready to be adaptive and flexible. However the scale of the market and demands means there are still plenty opportunities for international companies, we are working with our clients and partners, more closely than ever, to navigate and profit in the new environment”.