China Unveils New Crackdown on TV Talent Competitions

China has issued strict new rules for TV talent shows, banning "American Idol"-style mass audience voting by mobile phone text message and the Internet and forcing the programs out of prime time.

Media analyst Wang Ran said Saturday that the new regulations effectively kill the hugely popular TV format in China.

"It's nearly impossible to create interesting TV talent shows under the new framework," Wang said.

Wang, chief executive of the Beijing-based investment bank China eCapital Corp., which specializes in media deals, said it "single-handedly kills the genre of TV talent shows."

The lengthy 1 1/2-page order, posted on the Web site of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, or SARFT, follows a recent crackdown on talent shows.

The move also comes amid a tightening of media controls ahead of next month's Communist Party congress, a once-every-five-years meeting to appoint senior leaders and set major policies.

The order, dated Friday, acknowledges the value of TV talent shows, which proliferated after the success of the Hunan Satellite show "Super Girls 2005," but also issues stringent requirements for the timing, programming and judging of such shows.

SARFT said the talent shows have "made healthy attempts in innovating the content, format and method of television broadcasting, enriching and fulfilling the public's multilayered and diversified needs for spiritual culture."

"Super Girls 2005," China's equivalent of "American Idol," shattered ratings records, according to state media, with more than 400 million viewers tuning in to its finale, and several million voting by mobile phone text messages.

But SARFT said some shows suffered from "problems of cheap tone, betraying the fundamental position of being positive, healthy and striving for improvement, damaging the image of TV broadcasting."

China recently banned the TV talent show "The First Time I Was Touched" — apparently over the trivial nature of bizarre gift-giving stunts staged by a contestant. Officials have also banned TV shows about cosmetic surgery and sex changes, as well as radio shows that discussed sex and drugs.

SARFT said in its new order it wants "scientific judging standards," with voting in future permitted to take place only among live audiences. Analysts have said authorities feared that the voting might encourage Chinese to vent grievances on social issues.

State-run China Central Television and provincial satellite channels will not be allowed to air talent shows between 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. And each show must last no more than two months, airing no more than 10 shows of 90 minutes each, it said.

Only the final episode can be aired live, with a one-minute delay to prevent "problems," according to the order.

Provincial satellite channels will now have to submit their show proposals to provincial authorities and SARFT for prior approval, and seek regulator approval if they want to recruit contestants from outside their home region.

Comments by the shows' contestants, judges and hosts must be restricted to 20 percent of the programming, while singing competition contestants must perform mostly Chinese songs, it said.

Producers will also have to submit lists of judges and guests and ensure contestants' "stage presence, language, hairstyle and wardrobe meet public standards of beauty."

Analysts have said SARFT's recent crackdown is motivated by genuine public outrage about falling broadcasting standards and the effects on society of mass audience voting — some zealous fans pooled money to buy multiple mobile phone cards to vote en masse for their favorite contestants.

Others believe the Chinese government is concerned that mass public voting could be used to express social or political dissent.