In parallel with intensive crackdowns on major tech companies and after-school education, celebrity culture and obsessive fandoms are now targets of regulatory scrutiny in China. Last Friday, regulators said fan culture has become “chaotic” and must be “rectified.” Over the weekend, major social media platforms, video streaming websites, and music streaming apps all said they would thoroughly “examine” their own operations to comply with new rules. The way consumers in China interact with entertainment platforms is about to change dramatically.
Two of the largest music streaming apps in China, NetEase Music and Tencent-backed QQ Music, took down all artist rankings that do not directly reference the stream count of their songs. Weekly sales rankings of digital albums, as well as the usernames of individuals who spent the most money on these purchases on QQ Music, have been eliminated. The platform has also banned users from repeatedly buying the same digital album—a move to prevent excessive consumption and wastage by fan clubs that try to shore up sales for their favorite entertainers, typically by raising money to make purchases en masse.
Weibo claimed it has taken down all celebrity rankings and renamed over 2,000 “Super Topics” related to celebrities. The platform banned more than 1,000 accounts from making new posts, saying that these users are spreading “malicious” opinions and initiating attacks against one another.
Up until now, Weibo’s celebrity influence ranking was one of the most important indicators of an artist’s popularity in China. Loyal fans would attempt to move their favorite artists higher on the list at any cost. Chinese media outlet Sina reported that fans would comment on Weibo repeatedly and post under Super Topics to generate more impressions and more rapid engagement.
Likewise, Douyin and Kuaishou have removed celebrity rankings within their apps.
The rapid changes—and withdrawal from a vertical that generates massive amounts of traffic—is a response to Chinese authorities efforts to police the fandom economy and idol worship.
Joining a fan club involves spending money on all sorts of paraphernalia related to or endorsed by their favorite celebrities. Some groups raise money to pay for billboard and newspaper ads to post congratulatory messages, like for idols’ birthdays. “Spending money for idols has been a ‘basic qualification’ for fans” and social media platforms “take advantage of fans,” state broadcaster CCTV in a piece of critical commentary.
There are users who take their support for celebrities to an extreme by utilizing click farming and hijacking public opinion to “increase the exposure of their idols,” and then entertainment platforms collaborate with advertisers to gain revenue, CCTV said in its commentary.
Disputes over China’s fandom economy have been festering since April, when a trendy idol reality show produced by iQiyi, Youth With You, encouraged fans to purchase the sponsor’s dairy beverage to obtain QR codes inside bottle caps that make it possible to cast votes for contestants. Some fans bought vast quantities of the beverage and poured the bottles’ contents into ditches, according to Chinese media reports. The incident sparked public outrage, and iQiyi was ordered by regulators to adjust its program’s voting system.
On Thursday, Gong Yu, founder and CEO of iQiyi, said that it will cancel all idol reality shows and off-site voting systems in the next few years.
Dozens of studios and talent agencies announced initiatives and proposals over the weekend, each saying they would steer fans toward “rational” behavior.
Fans reacted differently to these new developments. Under the Weibo hashtag “CCTV criticized fan culture,” the leader of one fan group said in a post, “Why don’t people recognize us when we raise money for charity, when we stand up to defend the honor of our country?” Some influencers praised the regulatory crackdown, saying “the chaotic fan groups should be reined in.”