Cheng, Fan | May 1, 2019

What is the most popular TV program genre in China now? The answer is undoubtedly reality TV shows. There were more than 200 reality TV shows being put on air through Chinese satellite TV channels in 2015, which saw an outbreak of reality shows in China, and more than 400 in 2016. Rising together with the popularity of Chinese reality TV shows are claims of copyright infringement. Most of those reality shows do not owe their originality to domestic Chinese ideas, but are based on successful South Korean, American, and European formats. The production teams of some shows, like Daddy, Where Are We Going? and Keep Running, purchase Intellectual Property (IP) rights from the original production teams and produce the show with the advice and cooperation from the original teams. Others, however, copy ideas and easily recognizable formats from popular foreign shows directly, “[f]rom theme to general concept, to story structure, to flow and to the dynamics of the cast,” and stuff them with domestic celebrities and scenes. Criticizing some satellite TV channels as “too dependent on broadcasting foreign-inspired program[s]” with no original ideas, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued a directive, Directive About Strong Promotion of Innovation in Broadcasting and Television Programs (Directive), limiting the airing of foreign-produced and foreign-adapted TV programs that satellite broadcasters are allowed to import. Unsurprisingly, there was considerable skepticism toward the effect this government regulation would have on the market. In fact, plagiarized TV programs were said to have increased after the introduction of the Directive as more and more Chinese localized program producers simply changed the name of the program and claimed it was domestic and original. The fact that the current regulation system does not provide an incentive to create original content does not mean that regulation per se is not a workable solution. More than twenty countries have some form of government regulation on TV programs to protect and promote local content. Among them, the local content rules in Australia and Canada are particularly valuable such that the Chinese government could adopt a similarly effective scheme. To resolve this problem, the current government regulation on what counts as Chinese/foreign content should be changed to a multi-factor evaluation system.