China’s broadcasting authority, the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA), is ramping up efforts to regulate the rapidly growing short web drama industry. This move follows the removal of over 25,300 online shows deemed inappropriate due to violent, pornographic, or vulgar content.
The NRTA’s new strategy involves a comprehensive review system encompassing all facets of short web dramas, from casting and production to marketing, distribution, and their overall social impact. This approach signals an extension of the regulator’s domain to include various distribution networks, such as specialized apps and short video platforms. The decision aligns with the government’s broader initiative to scrutinize and sanitize content across the world’s largest internet market.
Last year, the NRTA implemented strict licensing rules for online shows, elevating them to a regulatory status similar to China’s highly censored film industry. This latest focus on short web dramas is a response to the segment’s significant expansion over the past two years. Data from DataWin, a film and television consultancy, indicates that around 481 short web dramas were released in the first half of this year alone, exceeding the total number for 2022.
Typically produced with modest budgets ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 yuan (US$27,587 to US$41,380), these dramas rely heavily on marketing for visibility, often incurring additional costs in the millions. These short episodes, lasting from one to several minutes, cater to the vast audience on platforms like Douyin, Kuaishou, and WeChat.
Liu Ke, a director at Beijing-based Hixi Media Group, observes that the market’s growth reflects a shift in entertainment consumption habits, with more people accessing content via smartphones. However, Liu points out significant issues within the industry, including repetitive violent content and a lack of originality in scripts. Cai Juntao, vice-chairman at Hixi Media, further notes that the market’s success is more dependent on post-production marketing efforts rather than content quality.
The NRTA’s action plan includes a month-long special operation to extensively review the short web drama market. The initiative aims to establish a blacklist among online platforms to prevent promotion of inappropriate content, ensuring the industry’s sustainable and responsible growth. This move underscores China’s commitment to balancing the burgeoning digital entertainment landscape with societal and cultural values.