China Cracks Down on TV Talent Competitions

Success of 'Supergirl' Prompts Government to Issue New Regulations

By Published on .

[beijing] Nervous about the growing popularity and fervor surrounding "American Idol"-type TV contests like "Supergirl," China's government is reining in provincial broadcasters with rules that will make the shows blander, less profitable and possibly even force them off the air.

Regulations announced by China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television this month require contestants to be at least 18; prohibit broadcasters from awarding prizes to winners; and require contestants to behave conservatively (no more suggestive dancing on stage or "vulgar" hair, baggy clothes and bare midriffs). And judges are forbidden to embarrass contestants on air.

The rules also limit the number of contest shows allowed on the airwaves each year and forbid local TV stations to run them at all, reducing the number of rural consumers who can watch the programs.

The changes follow a surge in copycat shows hoping to mimic the success of last year's "Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Supergirl Contest," a talent contest known as "Supergirl" and sponsored by Mengniu Dairy. The company is believed to have paid about $1.7 million to get its name on the show. More than 400 million Chinese watched "Supergirl." It spawned thousands of blogs and chat rooms and turned the winner, a 21-year-old tomboy named Li Yuchun, into a national celebrity.

The series was a financial windfall for the provincial broadcaster behind it, Hunan Satellite TV in Western China and its dairy sponsor, which used "Supergirl" to promote a new sour yogurt drink whose sales more than tripled to $185 million.

Reacting to rebels

The authorities are reacting against the sensationalistic, slightly rebellious nature of the contest programs, which promote individualism and personal achievement. The winners become idols with extreme influence on Chinese citizens. "Supergirl" also introduced Chinese to the concept of voting.

The Communist Party is not the only organization displeased with the sudden rise in popularity among China's smaller broadcasters. Ripples caused by "Supergirl" are transforming China's media landscape, until now dominated by state-run China Central Television, which takes in a large share of the $11 billion in revenue generated by China's radio, film and TV industry in 2005, according to SARFT figures.
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