Provincial broadcasters show such programs, which are cheap to produce and earn a lot of advertising revenue, on satellite channels that are broadcast around the country.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the "American Idol" kind of talent shows now need approval from the body that oversees broadcasting, which will license one such program per channel each quarter for prime-time viewing.
It also reported that new regulations require satellite channels to allocate no less than 30 per cent of their weekly air time to topics including news, economics, culture and science from next year.
There have been repeated efforts to limit American-style reality TV and other light fare shown on satellite TV, or push them out of prime-time viewing, with stated reasons including the need to stop vulgar content and promote more efficient use of resources.
Repeated calls to the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which reportedly issued the latest regulations, rang unanswered.
Liu Shanying, a political scientist at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he suspected the new regulations were because the satellite channels were taking too much audience away from the national broadcaster China Central Television.
The administration "is helping CCTV, the TV broadcaster that has the main task of carrying forward the government's message," said Liu, who used to work for CCTV. "The local stations have more freedom to attract audiences with entertainment shows. And that takes away too many viewers from CCTV and they are afraid that no one will pay attention to the government's tune."
The restrictions are expected to drive still more viewers online — where they can watch the same types of pre-recorded shows — and away from state TV.
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