China’s broadcasting regulator to increase control over country’s booming short web drama market


China’s broadcasting regulator is looking to tighten control over the growing short web drama market – including a sweeping review of each series’ cast, production, marketing and social values – several months after more than 25,300 such online shows were pulled because of violent, pornographic or vulgar content.

The National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) said it would take measures to “strengthen and refine management” of these short online dramas, according to a statement published on Wednesday via WeChat by the China Netcasting Services Association, a trade body under the regulator.

Under a range of proposed measures, the NRTA will establish a content-screening system for these short web dramas and extend its supervision to the distribution networks for these shows, including dedicated apps and short video platforms, according to the statement.

The NRTA also plans to conduct a month-long special action that will see it extensively review various areas of the short web drama market, including casting, production, storylines, marketing and distribution, and social value.


How China censors the internet

How China censors the internet

The licensing measure, announced in May last year, put that segment of the internet market to the same level as China’s film industry, which is subject to some of the toughest censorship in the world.

The Chinese broadcasting watchdog’s sharpened focus on short web dramas comes at a time when this market has seen rapid growth over the past two years.

In the first six months of this year, about 481 short web dramas were released, according to data from film and television market consultancy DataWin. That surpassed the 454 short online shows released during the whole of 2022.

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Each short web drama is typically produced with a small budget, according to Cai Juntao, vice-chairman at Hixi Media Group, a Beijing-based content production company.

The budget for each show typically ranges between 200,000 and 300,000 yuan (US$27,587 and US$41,380), according to Cai. But marketing, which involves buying exposure and user traffic on distribution platforms, would add millions of yuan or tens of millions of yuan to total spending on each short web drama, according to Cai.

Each episode of a short web series runs from 1 to several minutes long, primed to leverage a vast mainland audience on short video platforms like ByteDance-owned Douyin, Kuaishou Technology and even WeChat.

“This is a trend that’s going to continue for a long while,” Liu Ke, a director at Hixi Media, said in an interview with the Post on Wednesday.

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Liu said the growth of the short web drama market dovetailed with the shift on how many people at present consume various forms of entertainment via their smartphones.

While acknowledging that short web dramas have become an immense draw in China in just a short span of time, Liu said there are glaring issues in this market, including violent content, that could derail its long-term growth.

“Many shows are literally based on the same scripts,” he said. “Audiences see with each new release that they are watching many similar shows that are shot with a different cast.”

Hixi vice-chairman Cai indicated that the success of short web dramas greatly depends on post-production marketing, rather than the substance of the content.

“It’s turning the content business into a marketing or traffic-purchasing game”, Cai said, adding that his company is not looking to get into this area.

The NRTA, meanwhile, said it pulled more than 25,300 short web dramas containing violence, pornography and vulgar content from November last year through February. It also set up a blacklist among online platforms to block such shows from being promoted in the industry.


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