Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese version, tightens vetting of advertisers as Beijing takes aim at booming short web drama market

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ByteDance’s Douyin, the Chinese sibling of TikTok that has over 600 million daily active users, has tightened its screening of advertisers in response to Beijing’s increased control of short video content.

Under Douyin’s new requirement, which will come into effect on Thursday, advertisers looking to promote short-form dramas – budget productions with each episode lasting only a few minutes – will need to show proper licensing documents, according to a notice published by the company’s advertising arm on Monday.

The required documents include the “radio and television programme production and operations licence”, “value-added telecoms business operations licence”, and either the “information network communications audiovisual licence” or the “internet culture operations licence”. All licence holders have been pre-screened by government content-control authorities.

The rules, which Douyin said are intended to ensure that the industry is “developing on the right track”, effectively ban individuals and unlicensed studios from promoting content on the platform.


How China censors the internet

How China censors the internet

“Not many institutions hold those three licences at the same time, but for institutions that do, this will be a big opportunity for them,” said Zhang Yi, CEO of Chinese market consultancy iiMedia.

Short web dramas have seen rapid growth in China over the past two years. In the first half of the year, some 480 short web dramas were released, according to data from film and television market consultancy DataWin. That surpassed the 454 short online shows released during the whole of 2022.

China’s highest-valued unicorn ByteDance, founded by entrepreneur Zhang Yiming in 2012, remains a private company and is not obliged to publicly disclose financial information. But its revenues were said to have reached US$29 billion in the second quarter of 2023, a surge of 40 per cent from a year ago, according to a report last week by The Information, which cited anonymous sources.

However, as ByteDance’s influence grows, it is also under constant pressure from regulators to censor improper content.

Douyin’s enhanced vetting of advertisers comes days after broadcasting regulator, the National Radio and Television Administration, said it would “strengthen and refine management” of short online dramas, according to a statement published last Wednesday by the China Netcasting Services Association, a trade body under the agency.

Under a range of proposed measures, the administration will conduct a sweeping review of each series’ cast, production, marketing and social values, according to the statement.

TikTok, which ByteDance said operates independently from Douyin, also faces rising scrutiny in overseas markets, particularly in the United States.

More than a dozen Jewish celebrities and content creators met TikTok executives and other employees in a video call last week, pushing for more action to tackle antisemitism on the popular platform, according to a report by The New York Times.

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