April 28 (Bloomberg) -- Four U.S. television shows, including “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Good Wife,” are no longer available on China’s largest video websites after the government escalated a crackdown on content deemed offensive.
Sohu.com Inc. was ordered by regulators to remove “The Big Bang Theory,” Chief Executive Officer Charles Zhang told reporters on a conference call today. A search for “The Good Wife” on Youku Tudou Inc.’s website generated a message saying the show couldn’t be found, possibly because Youku “deleted the content due to violations of relevant rules.” The other deleted shows included “NCIS” and “The Practice,” according to the official Beijing Daily.
Chinese video sites, including Baidu Inc.’s IQiyi, have been aggressively buying copyrights to licensed content to win advertisers and paying members as China’s 618 million Web users search for entertainment. Government censors are tightening control over content, with Sina Corp., parent of China’s largest microblogging service, saying last week it may be stripped of two licenses because some content is considered pornographic.
“Since online video was new, for years it hasn’t been subject to the same standards as TV stations,” said Doug Young, Shanghai-based author of the book “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.” “If China is going to censor, it seems sort of fair that the video sites be subject to the same requirements.”
China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued a notice stepping up regulations on online TV shows and films “to prevent vulgar content, base art form, violence and sexual content in online videos having a negative impact on society.”
Sohu, whose rights only include online broadcasts, wasn’t given an explanation for the take-down directive and the show may return after a review of the decision, Zhang said.
“I believe this is a stand alone event and it does not represent the policy trend or any change toward American TV shows,” Zhang said. “There are some explicit jokes that are problematic under current circumstances,” Zhang said, offering his own opinion of one possible reason for the decision.
President Xi Jinping kicked off a “Cleaning the Web 2014” campaign in April, resulting in the deletions of 110 websites and 3,300 accounts from China-based social networking services such as Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat and Weibo Corp., according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
As a result, Internet companies led the worst weekly decline since mid-March in Chinese stocks trading in New York. Sina plunged 6.8 percent on April 25 to $48.15, capping a 15 percent decline for the week. Sohu’s shares fell 2.5 percent on April 25 to $58, the lowest since May 9 last year. Youku Tudou fell 1.3 percent to $24.14, the lowest in three weeks.
Sohu imported US shows including “House of Cards,” “Saturday Night Live” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to attract China’s “affluent and the well-educated urban audience,” Chief Executive Officer Charles Zhang said during an earnings call in February.
Sohu, which positions itself as the “best destination for premium American content,” had exclusive rights to distribute “The Big Bang Theory.” “The Good Wife” is shared by Sohu, Youku Tudou and Tencent, according to the Beijing Daily.
Dong Qianqiu, a spokeswoman for IQiyi, said today the company is fully cooperating with relevant agencies. Jean Shao, a spokeswoman for Youku Tudou, declined to comment on China’s regulation of online videos.
The subject generated more than 300,000 comments on Weibo, China’s largest Twitter-like platform.
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