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China Clamps Down on Webcasting by Weibo and Other Media Firms

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China's broadcasting regulator ordered Weibo Corp. and two other internet media firms to halt video and audio webcasting, accusing them of operating without a license and disseminating opinions potentially harmful to social stability.

Weibo logo
Weibo logo

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said services operated by companies including Weibo -- often called China's Twitter -- had been broadcasting negative commentary in violation of government regulations. The regulator didn't say what action had been taken, and Weibo declined to comment while it studies the order.

The regulatory ban could disrupt a revival for Weibo that's getting underway. The messaging service controlled by Sina Corp. has turned to video streaming over the past year to rejuvenate growth. The company has since reignited user interest, pushing its typical monthly audience to 340 million people -- surpassing Twitter's -- and its stock market value above $16 billion. Chairman Charles Chao is now focused on expanding Weibo into areas including news aggregation and live video streaming. Weibo's advertising and marketing revenue increased 42% in 2016, reaching $571 million.

Weibo, AcFun and Ifeng.com are "broadcasting large amounts of programming that don't meet national standards and which propagate negative opinions on public affairs," the national broadcasting regulator said in a one-line statement posted on its website. "We're taking measures to halt the programs and begin rectification."

A call to Ifeng, a video site backed by Phoenix New Media Ltd., and an email to its investor relations director outside normal business hours weren't immediately answered. AcFun's public relations manager didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

China has one of the world's most restrictive internet regimes, tightly policed by a coterie of government regulators intent on silencing dissent to preserve social stability. Weibo itself employs a staff of thousands to monitor its service and remove posts it worries could anger Beijing. While civil libertarians and users decry this institutionalized censorship, Chao in June pointed to an epidemic of fake news on Facebook and Google as evidence that more top-down control is warranted.

--Bloomberg News, with Ad Age staff