China Ink, Entertainment

What a drama!

SARFT announces ban on TV commercials

What a drama!

A popular move by the regulator?

The print media seemed to think it was a positive move for the viewing audience. “Couch potatoes will be able to enjoy TV dramas without interruption once the new regulation comes into effect next year,” wrote the China Daily. And according to a survey of 4,000 users of, more than 90% favoured the ban.

Peking University’s professor of advertising Chen Gang was also in favour, telling the Beijing Morning Post that the ban would ensure the “integrity of dramas and a better viewing experience”. And Li Shugeng, a Bejing resident, was similarly pleased, telling state media: “The regulation is brilliant. Commercials now almost always appear from 10 to 20 minutes into a TV show. I don’t know what I’m watching half of the time. Is it a drama or is it a commercial? And for some older people, if the commercials are too long, they tend to forget where they were in a story when the drama comes back on.”

The South China Morning Post cited SARFT’s reasoning for the move: “Television is an important tool for propaganda and the spreading of culture… banning advertising during TV dramas will enhance the plot flow”. But the Financial Times saw more of a plan to “assert control over the country’s increasingly commercial media industry”.

AFP echoed the sentiments of local media that scrapping the ads seemed to be popular with the general public – regardless of the motivation for the new measures. It interviewed the head of the advertising department at Hainan University, who noted that the number of ads being shown in TV dramas had become intolerable. “There’s a joke that says that when you watch ads, all of a sudden a TV drama pops up.”

The likely impact?

The likely impact?

The Beijing Times predicted that the main commercial TV stations will take a major revenue hit, with the sales director from Zhejiang Satellite TV already lamenting that it will create havoc for next year’s schedule as the channel will have to contact advertisers and renegotiate.

The Beijing Morning Post also reported that product placement was likely to surge in replacing lost ad revenue. It speculated too that some channels would come up with creative solutions for getting around the provisions – such as chopping dramas up into more episodes, but making each run less than 45 minutes (thereby allowing them to show ads).

More optimistically, Peking University’s Chen said the ban would lead to a welcome “survival of the fittest” among the excessive number of commercial TV channels, as well as promote more creativity.

GroupM, the media investment management group, told the FT that China’s TV ad spending would hit $31.4 billion this year. That was up 13% on 2010 but clearly the ban would hit next year’s sales. On the other hand, the SCMP pointed out, industry executives are claiming that if the new move boosts viewing rates, the value of the remaining advertising slots would rise. But Hainan University’s advertising head still estimated that the TV stations stand to lose a collective $3.1 billion in fees.

AFP then took a different tack, suggesting that the move was an attempt to “woo back viewers lost to the internet”. The view is that TV is less politically volatile than the web – so the government hasn’t been happy to see the number of households watching TV each night slip to 38% from 75% just three years ago. In August a survey suggested that 26% of internet users no longer watch TV at all and SARFT’s new boss Cai Fuchao told local media his mandate is to increase TV audiences.

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