Licensed foreign content also cannot be greater than 30 per cent of the total domestic content licensed in the previous year, according to an executive at one of the sites, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak directly to the media.
The announcement on the website of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television only addressed the approval requirement for foreign content and did not mention the 30 per cent limit.
It said that video sites must register their foreign content with their local broadcasting authority before the end of March. Companies must obtain a screening license or distribution license for each TV drama or film and those that do not have one will not be allowed to be broadcast, it said.
The purpose is to "help online culture grow and prosper," it said adding that this could be achieved by "promoting excellent Chinese traditional culture" and encouraging websites "to import a moderate amount of foreign films and TV shows that are healthy in content, finely produced and promote truth, virtue and beauty."
Beijing has in the past allowed private video websites to operate with few of the restrictions that state-run TV broadcasters face, possibly to avoid stifling what was seen as a promising high-tech industry.
But in April, the government's broadcast regulator issued a surprise order to online streaming companies to stop showing four American TV shows, including sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" and political and legal drama "The Good Wife."
Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based Internet and mobile research company, said there was an "inevitable tightening of control" over the online video industry.
"The broadcasting industry doesn't like so much competition from the Internet industry and wants to make sure that it maintains control over anything that's coming out in the video space, whether that's online or via Internet network or mobile network," he said.
Friday's notice was billed as a reiteration of existing regulations on the management of films and TV dramas, but one streaming company called them new.
Jay Chen, spokesman for a leading online video company, Youku Tudou, said in an emailed statement: "We don't see material impact on our traffic or revenue in the near term. The new regulations won't take effect until 2015, it allows us time to adjust and comply."
Another site, Sohu, declined to comment. Calls to a third site, Baidu Inc.'s iQiyi, were not answered.