Chinese Internet authorities have formalized controversial rules regulating the nation’s fast-growing live-streaming video industry, in a move that strips out smaller competitors and places hard-line surveillance measures on leading firms.
In an announcement posted on its Web site yesterday, the Cyberspace Administration of China grouped a handful of earlier restrictions under a final 24-point regulation that is to come into effect on Dec. 1.
The rules require streaming services to log user data and content for 60 days, and to work with regulators to provide information on users who stream content that the government deems threatening to national security or social order.
Both users and providers are punishable under the regulations.
The law also codifies rules that ban online news broadcasting services from original reporting, requiring them to identify sources and non-selectively reproduce state-sanctioned information.
China’s live-video streaming industry has experienced booming growth in the past two years as dozens of video and social media sites scrambled to add the updated capabilities to their existing services.
Credit Suisse Group AG analysts estimate the industry could top US$5 billion by the end of next year, driven by cheap bandwidth and a growing population of young mobile users.
The industry’s exponential growth attracted increased scrutiny from government authorities this year.
In April, Chinese authorities called on 20 of the nation’s top firms to join a self-criticism coalition, saying the industry was damaging China’s youth by proliferating content including pornography, fraud and terrorism.
On June 1, companies including Baidu Inc (百度), Sina Corp (新浪), Sohu.com Inc (搜狐) and Youku Tudou Inc (優酷土豆) acknowledged the new rules as part of the group, including requirements for real-name authentication.
While the latest move places wide-reaching restrictions on the Web sites, it also signals an official sanctioning of the industry and its top players by Chinese officials.
Much like China’s earlier online video and music industries, the regulations put pressure on smaller competitors and bring larger firms into line with regulators, offering more growth opportunities for a smaller number of controllable companies.
“One of the things the government always wants to do is narrow the playing field to a smaller number of higher profile known entities, ideally ones that have a better track record of cooperating with the government,” Marbridge Consulting managing director Mark Natkin said.
“In the long run it’s actually relatively beneficial to the large companies,” he said.
In May, the government handed down 588 licenses for prominent media outlets and live-streaming sites, effectively banning all unapproved services.
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