Live-streaming has gained its momentum in China since as early as 2015. It is estimated that there are nearly 200 online live-streaming websites in China, with the total user population of more than 200 million. Popular platforms could have hundreds of thousands of active users in one live-streaming “room” at peak time. Professional gamers such as Dota 2 or League of Legends players are one the most popular streamers. Good-looking women–usually wearing revealing outfits–who talk about lifestyle, fashion or simply interact with their audience are also quite popular to Chinese “Zhai Nan”, or “house male”– a term referring to male addicted to staying home and playing computer games.
These platforms offer celebrity or non-celebrity performers money for their live-streams. Viewers can send the performers virtual “gifts” when they see something they like, while the performers can then trade the value of those “gifts” for actual cash. A live-streamer’s income averages $3,000 RMB ($588 CAD) a month by broadcasting a few hours a day. A recent report showed 31.2 percent of the live streamers are in this industry for money rather than exposure.
The live-streaming business remained largely a grey area–until recently. Below are major campaigns by Chinese authorities targeted at the the country’s live-streaming platforms.
In July 2016, the Internet Crime Reporting Centre (ICRC) of China’s Ministry of Public Security held a work meeting to strengthen its management over internet live-streaming platforms. The ICRC announced that a specialized campaign will be carried out from now on to the end of October to inspect on a full scale to see if online live-streaming platforms have followed and enforced relevant cyber-management regulations.
Specifically, the campaign will focus on removing “illegal and harmful information” from these platforms, shut down accounts or channels that disseminate illegal content, and punish live-streaming platforms that break the laws and regulations. It is reported that three types of live-streaming platforms will be the main targets of the campaign: first, platforms that are frequently reported by the public or Internet users, second, platforms that have allegedly involved in providing sexual performances, gambling, and other illegal content, and third, companies that fail to systematically manage itself or follow rules.
Meanwhile, the public security bureau will push forward the real name registration of live-streamers and website administrators as well as phone number registration of ordinary users. It will also collaborate with internet live-streaming platforms to curb the dissemination of “pornographic, violent, horrifying, crime-inciting and other illegal information” or any sexual, gambling, and spam activities.
The campaign is a continuation of Chinese authorities’ efforts to regulate live-streaming platforms and part of China’s move to “Clean the Web” as a whole. On April 14, 2016, China’s Ministry of Culture announced that all of the major streaming platforms, including Douyu, Panda.tv, Huya,YY, Zhanqi TV, 9158, are under investigation for hosting content that was too vulgar, sexual, or violent, and even content that incites users to commit crimes.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged regulators and Internet practitioners to “enhance cybersecurity” and ensure “high quality content with positive voices creating a healthy, positive culture that is a force for good at a symposium on cybersecurity on April 19 2016.
A more recent regulation comes from the Ministry of Culture, which issued a guideline in July 2016 stipulating for the first time that live-broadcasting performers will now be held accountable for any content that is deemed inappropriate, and serious violators will be blacklisted nationwide.
What about laws and regulations?
In China, censorship is usually outsourced to Internet companies, which is a central part of regulators’ strategy in trying to keep tight control over 668 million Internet users and the hundreds of news, video and social media websites. As the live-streaming business getting bigger and bigger, authorities from China’s Ministry of Culture, State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, and relevant institutes have promulgated various policies and regulations on the industry.
In April 2016, over 20 Beijing-based Internet companies have signed a Beijing Internet Performing (Live-Broadcasting) Industry Self-Regulation Action Convention (《北京网络表演(直播)行业自律行动公约》), which I’ve translated as below.
|Beijing Internet Performing (Live-Broadcasting) Industry Self-Regulation Action Convention||北京网络表演(直播)行业自律行动公约|
|2) No live-broadcasting application registration channel shall be provided to minors under 18-year-old.||2、不为18岁以下的未成年人提供主播注册通道。|
|3) Existing anchors who have not completed real-name verification shall complete the verification by June 1 2016.||3、现有主播未进行实名认证的，于2016年6月1日前完成实名认证。|
|4) All live-broadcasting platforms shall arrange specific staff to store verification information uploaded by anchors and shall not leak them.||4、主播认证的信息，各直播平台安排专人进行保管，不得外泄。|
|5) If for subjective reasons, a platform or company is not able to cross-reference and verify the applicant’s bank account and ID information, it shall require anchors to sign up for an verified Sina Weibo or a WeChat public account, which shall be displayed to the public at noticeable spots in the platform’s website and relevant live-broadcasting rooms.||5、因客观原因确实无法完成银行卡账户信息与身份证信息比对的平台企业，应要求主播开通实名认证微博或者微信公众号，并在平台网站和直播空间显著位置标示，向社会公示。|
|2. Watermarks shall be added to all live-broadcasting rooms.
The watermark shall include logo or name of the website and timestamp. It shall be positioned on the top left or right corner of the video screen. The size of the watermark shall be: width * height no less than 50 px * 25 px. The watermark shall be clear, identifiable, and overtly distinguishable from the rest of the video screen.
|3. Store all the live-broadcasting content.
If a platform provide multiple resolution levels of one video clip for users to watch, it shall store the video version with highest resolution and shall store it for no less than 15 days.
|4. Provide stronger training and guidance for anchors.
When anchors register and sign a contract, they shall be told explicitly about content prohibited by state laws and regulations and show that they acknowledge these laws and regulations. In daily management, platforms shall strengthen trainings on spoken language, body language, performance and other aspects for anchors and guide them to provide healthy, positive live-broadcasting content of various kinds.
|5. Establish a blacklisted anchor system.
For anchors who broadcast content involving politics, gun, drug, violence and pornography, where circumstances are serious, all companies shall shut down their accounts, keep their user information as well as video evidence of the illegal content and upload these information to Beijing Internet Culture Association’s database for screening. If the content is determined to fall within the range of prohibited content, the Association will hand down the blacklist to all live-broadcasting platforms. All live-broadcasting platforms shall not provide live-broadcasting rooms to blacklisted anchors.
|6. Implement enterprises’ responsibility.
Effective immediately, platforms shall take effective measures to conduct self-examination and improve internal management and content monitoring systems. Meanwhile, all platforms shall equip themselves with an enough amount of examiners who monitor the live-broadcasting content on the platform on a 24/7 basis. The post responsibility on information safety and contingency plans for emergencies shall be put into effect. Manual and technology-based inspection shall be employed together.
|Beijing Municipal Internet Culture Association Internet Music and Performance Specialized Committee
6Room Youku Huajiao Yingke Miaopai Zaizhibo DoShow
April 13 2016
六间房 优酷 花椒 映客 秒拍(小咖秀) 在直播 都秀
Its actual impact? According to Shen Rui, chief of the Beijing Municipal Internet Law Enforcement Team, live-streaming platforms are responsible for monitoring individuals and his team is mainly monitoring the platforms. If a platform is found to act weak on monitoring its users, it will faced penalty including warning and fines; serious violators will be ordered to suspend production or business, face rescission of a license or permit, shutdown of relevant websites, and the owner of the website may face administrative and criminal responsibilities.
So far, three criteria have been set to determine if a platform is liable for failing at content monitoring: 1) if a video of sexual content has been on live-broadcast for more than three minutes without being noticed, 2) if the length of video is short but has been on the platform for consecutive days, and 3) if a live-broadcast involving illegal content is announced in advance or promoted afterwards as publicity stunt and the platform has not banned the anchor’s account in time.
However, as the Convention is essentially a contract set up to help with the industry management and a convention that clarifies code of conduct and disciplinary violations, it’s only legally binding among the self-regulation administrative organizations, member signatories in the industry. Because the law-making body is enterprises and organizations within the industry, the Convention does not have the coercive force of state. As such, how effective the self-regulations listed in the Convention relies on how well each enterprise and organization follows the rules.
What is more of a strict regulation is a notice released by the SARFT.
In early September 2016, China’s SARFT released Notice On Issues Concerning Strengthening Management Over Internet Audio-Visual Live-Broadcast Services (《关于加强网络视听节目直播服务管理有关问题的通知》). According to these newly released regulations, platforms and individuals who live-broadcast “events related to politics, military, economy, society, culture, sports, etc.” must have the License for Publication of Audio-Visual Programs through Information Network （《信息网络传播视听节目许可证》, the License） issued by the SARFT. Otherwises, platforms that opera live-broadcast channels or individuals who conduct online performances are not allowed to continues these services and business. Without permission by the SARFT and relevant government agencies, no organization or individual shall use “television”, “broadcast channel”, “radio”, “TV” or related terms to name or advertise the business . Moreover, any live-broadcasting activity shall be registered with and reported to provincial and above levels of the SARFT departments in advance.
The Notice by the SARFT is expected to have a significant impact on the once vaguely regulated live-broadcasting industry. Prior to the Notice, enterprises engaging in the live-broadcasting industry only need to obtain an Internet Culture Business Permit (《网络文化经营许可证》) issued by the Ministry of Culture and/or the culture administrative department of a province, autonomous region or municipality. The application process is fairly easier than applying for the License, which is issued less often, has more requirements, and is not eligible to foreign-owned companies.
As of May 31, 2016, there are 588 companies that have the License, a large number of which are traditional state-owned television and radio organizations such as China Radio International and China Network Television whereas only a few are obtained by video platforms such as Youku and LeEco. According to YY Live’s official website, YY Inc. has already obtained the License. However, Tian Ge, the company who operates 9158 and Sina Show, seems to only have the Internet Culture Business Permit. Platforms such as Panda TV, Douyu TV and Huya TV have already violated the regulations listed in the Notice just because they have “TV” in their name.
Here is a flowchart to show the application process.