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China's TV fans say they're 'turned off' by media regulator's planned ban
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Say goodbye to cranky, brash House M.D.; adios to special agent Jack Bauer's 24-hour adventures and farewell to egocentric physicist Sheldon Cooper of the "Big Bang Theory," because a "big ban" has just landed on China's TV fans.

Tudou.com, one of the most popular online video sites in China, said Friday that as of April, webcast sites might not be able to post foreign TV series which, despite their popularity, are seldom aired in China.

Under a regulation issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) Tuesday, all domestic and foreign films, TV series, animation shows and documentaries transmitted online must be licensed by the media regulator.

The new rule was China's latest attempt to crack down on "low-brow" cyber content. It drew immediate concern from site hosts, which said the rule could crimp the country's booming online audio and video industry.

"We have been notified of the new regulation, but we are still unclear about some details in its implementation," said an employee at Tudou.com who would only give his surname, Zhang.

Zhang said Tudou.com had not yet deleted or banned uploads of foreign TV series or movie clips.

But some regular visitors to the site claimed that clips of some US TV series, such as Desperate Housewives, had "temporarily vanished" on Tudou.com soon after the SARFT regulation.

"We are not sure how or how much the new regulation would affect our business," said Zhang, adding that a "large proportion" of video clips on Tudou.com already had broadcasting licenses.

Foreign TV series, such as House M.D., 24, and Prison Break are popular among young Chinese but are not licensed. Most of these shows are recorded from TV sets onto computers by overseas Chinese and transmitted through online video websites or through peer-to-peer services like BitTorrent.

Some keen fans even provide free Chinese subtitles for the convenience of those who do not understand English.

Hearing of the regulator's move, fans began to sulk online. On sfile.ydy.com, an online forum for foreign TV series and a major free Chinese subtitle provider in China, fans and subtitle makers criticized the move.

The download page of ydy.com had earlier closed during a crackdown on "low-brow" content in January.

"If I cannot watch U.S. dramas on the Internet video websites, the sites are of little interest to me," a subtitle writer known as "Kenshin" told Xinhua.

He said that it seemed both watching and downloading foreign TV series might be halted. "If the situation goes the way we fear, pretty soon there won't be any free U.S. TV series available on the Internet, and we won't be writing Chinese subtitles since no one would need them," he said.

"I started watching U.S. dramas five years ago, starting with Desperate Housewives, I remember," he said. "Now, I myself have become 'desperate'."

Other netizens, however, supported the SARFT regulation, calling it a good chance to crack down on illegal video sites, raise public awareness of copyright issues and protect intellectual property rights.

Tudou.com and youku.com, another major webcast site famed among Chinese drama fans, both said they supported the SARFT regulation.

Zhang told Xinhua the website had been buying rights to TV series and films directly from distributors long before the regulation was issued.

However, it might be hard to get licenses for all foreign TV series to allow them to be broadcast in China, "Kenshin" said.

"I sure hope banning foreign TV dramas is not the only step. Maybe the authorities would consider officially importing such TV series and giving them licenses to broadcast so that copyrights are protected and we fans can have our fun," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency April 3, 2009)

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