Video streaming platform iQiyi announced on Wednesday that it will stop producing “idol competition” programs in the next few years. This development takes place weeks after the Chinese government denounced “excessive fan culture” through state media critiques.
iQiyi CEO Yu Gong announced the decision during a convention with the theme “No room for unethical artists” held by the China TV Artists Association. Gong said that in order to comply with regulations, his company will stop creating competition-based reality shows and remove the fan voting system.
Since 2018, iQiyi has produced four hugely popular idol competition series, including Idol Producer and Youth With You, each episode of which garnered many millions of views and created a fanatical following on social media. Idol Producer has been viewed 2.83 billion times, according to iQiyi’s first financial report after its IPO in 2018, and the topic was viewed over 13.9 billion times on Weibo. The country’s idol market reached RMB 100 billion (USD 15.5 billion) in 2020, according to a report from consulting firm ENdata.
Contestants on these reality shows are usually young people without much performing experience. The aspiring artists live and train together for a few months, but only those who win enough votes from the audience can make it to the final round and sign with a notable entertainment company.
The voting system doubles as a marketing strategy for iQiyi and select sponsors. Users can cast votes by subscribing to the platform’s premium service. Alternatively, many shows are often sponsored by dairy companies, so fans can vote by scanning QR codes inside the caps of yogurt and milk bottles. Millions of dairy products were sold as contestants’ throngs of adoring fans would buy them in bulk to cast votes. In one example involving Tencent-produced reality show Chuang 2020, fans spent at least RMB 480 million (USD 74 million) on beverages with the sole intention to cast votes, according to a report by Southern Weekly.
The wastage has struck a nerve with Chinese authorities. Xinhua released an op-ed in May criticizing the excessive food waste as a bad example for younger viewers. The unwavering support for celebrities was most recently on display when some obsessive fans of Kris Wu continued to show support for the performer despite his alleged sexual misconduct.
Tougher regulations are already on their way to curb the “excessive fan culture” and crack down on China’s entertainment industry. On Friday, China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television blasted fan culture, indicating “zero tolerance” for artists who breach the law and that the industry must be rectified. The same day, the Cyberspace Administration of China ordered all celebrity rankings to be taken down, and fan clubs’ fundraising activities were canceled in order to “clean up” chaotic fan culture.