chinese regulator pushes for broadcast delay of all online concerts and shows, tightening censorship of live-streamed content

Chinese authorities are pushing for broadcast delay of all online concerts and shows, as part of the government’s sharpened initiative to monitor, review and clean up content in the world’s biggest internet market.

Live-streaming of online performances, such as concerts, music festivals and operas, shall be conducted in “delayed” mode, according to draft regulation published on September 23 on the website of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Such a broadcast delay would enable specific personnel assigned by internet platforms to do real-time supervision of online performances and block what they determine as problematic content. The ministry is soliciting public feedback until October 10, a routine procedure before the regulation takes effect.

Under the proposed regulation, internet platforms are required to apply for pre-approval in cases where foreign performers are involved in the online show. Pre-approvals are also required to stream shows held or recorded outside mainland China.

chinese regulator pushes for broadcast delay of all online concerts and shows, tightening censorship of live-streamed content

The headquarters of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Beijing. The agency was established on March 19, 2018, following the merger of the Ministry of Culture and the China National Tourism Administration. Photo: Weibo

The draft regulation, however, did not specify which aspects of online performances must be censored.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s latest initiative reflects its expanded authority over “the regulation of the source of online performance content”, which took effect on January 1 this year.

It is one of several Chinese government agencies with a mandate to regulate certain segments of the country’s internet industry, as more entertainment activities move online. The others include internet watchdog the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA).

In June this year, the NRTA and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism jointly published an 18-point guideline that outlined the qualifications online influencers must have to discuss certain subjects. That new regulation also listed 31 banned behaviours during live-streaming sessions.

Early this year, the CAC called on internet platform operators to establish strong content review teams and increase training for these employees. In addition, operators are required by the regulator to make necessary modifications to their online products related to self-discipline and rectification.

Chinese authorities have continued to build on a powerful information control system that protects the primacy of Beijing’s policies. It includes the “Great Firewall” that blocks data and other digital resources from foreign online platforms, a vast army of censors processing domestic internet content, and a raft of hefty fines to punish businesses and individuals for violations of content rules.

When implemented, the new regulation from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism would certainly affect how online concerts would be streamed by mainland China’s biggest video platform operators, including ByteDance-owned Douyin, Kuaishou Technology and Tencent Holdings’ multipurpose super app WeChat.

Online concerts have become big events for these video-sharing services to attract a vast audience. Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau Tak-wah’s latest Douyin concert, for example, set a record 350 million viewers on the platform.

In July, Baidu’s annual flagship technology conference was abruptly cut off for nearly half an hour on Tencent’s WeChat Channels for not being preregistered with Chinese authorities. That intervention by WeChat showed how internet platforms are deferring to Beijing’s tightened grip on online content.

That same month, popular video-sharing services provider Bilibili vowed to clamp down on the activities of virtual live-streamers who seek to generate more user traffic with “malicious content that challenges good morals and public order”.

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