As the economy has gotten stronger, you might think China's media
censorship would relax more, but it hasn't. The timing of the
letter is likely tied to a meeting held this week in Beijing to
discuss the party's next five-year plan.
China hasn't blocked the English-language sites and it's highly
unlikely it will.
"They're not going to go and piss off all of the expat business
community, that would be going too far," Peter Herford, a former
CBS news producer who's now a journalism professor at Shantou
University, told me by phone. "But their own citizens, hell
It's also difficult, Herford explained, to know exactly who's
responsible for the shutdown. Normally it's the Propaganda Ministry
that makes these decisions, but in theory it could also be the
Agricultural Ministry if it disapproved of something. "The actual
decision can come from many other places," he said.
I can't read Chinese, so I haven't been inconvenienced by the
outage. In the 72 hours I've been here, I'm a bit embarrassed to
admit that the drug I miss most in my media habit is YouTube. Links
to the site are all over the English-language web and it's nearly
impossible for a non-Chinese-language speaker to substitute Youku
or Tudou, the two leading online-video sites in China, because
they're not in English. (And incidentally, they have little
incentive to add English translation because that would just
attract foreign visitors, which they can't monetize through
But while I'm stuck here without many of my favorite sites -- in
addition to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are also blocked under
the Great Firewall of China -- I've been astonished by the number
of expats and digital-media junkies who do access the sites using
Even Tudou CEO Gary Wang, whose site has arguably benefited from
the firewall, has one on his iPhone 4. In an afternoon meeting at
his office, a three-story former nightclub far from downtown
Shanghai, he pulled up Twitter, showed me his Facebook app. But
while he gets around the blockage on Facebook and Twitter, he deals
with very real issues of censorship every day, as his site screens
uploads looking for censored topics. Screening for censorship
purposes consumes far more of his energy and resources than
screening for copyrighted content being uploaded by users. Content
companies will sue sites like Tudou for copyright violation when
they find content on the site, but the penalties are very low.
"Content is a one," he said, speaking about the scale of time
and investment he puts into particular issues and concerns.
"Censorship is 1,000."
China's media market doesn't only play by different rules than
the West, it's also much, much more fragmented than anything the
American ad market deals with. The online market is flooded with
BBS, or bulletin board systems, in addition to the Chinese versions
of many popular internet sites, said Sam Fleming, who runs a
social-media marketing firm in China, CIC. "It's much more
complex." The BBS world can be tough to wrangle for advertising,
but he does think it's easier for online content to go viral in
China than in the west.
"There's a dearth of good content so they go online for
entertainment, information and socializing -- more so than in the
west," he said.
But the TV market is where it gets really hairy, Seth Grossman,
managing director of Carat in
China, told me over lunch earlier this week. There's the big
state-owned national network CCTV and the nearly nationwide
Shanghai Media Group and then hundreds of smaller ones, sprinkled
across local markets.
As Tudou's Wang told me, that's why "there could never be a Hulu
in China." In the U.S., he said you've got about five players
controlling the content, here there are dozens of content
And don't even get me started on the outdoor market.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Klaassen is the editor of Advertising Age.