TV drama director slams practice of fake audience ratings

The Story of Yanxi Palace is an imperial romance drama co-produced by iQiyi in China. Photo: Handout

While investigations into alleged tax evasions by many Chinese celebrities like billionaire actress Fan Bingbing are going on, the country's film and television industry has been engulfed by another controversy after a famous director publically lashed out at fake audience ratings on the Internet.

Recently, TV drama director Guo Jingyu published a lengthy post on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform in China, in which he accused industry insiders of manipulating audience ratings of TV dramas.

In the post, Guo revealed that the airing date of his latest TV drama, Mother's Life, was intentionally delayed by a provincial television station after he refused to purchase high audience ratings from a firm assigned by a senior executive of the television station.

The price for increasing the audience rating for each episode of Mother's Life was set at as much as 900,000 yuan, said Guo, adding that "this means I have no choice but to make an extra payment of 72 million yuan" for the TV drama containing 80 episodes. Each episode of Mother's Life was sold for 1.3 million yuan to the television station, said Guo.

Buying fraudulent audience ratings is rampant in China, where television stations customarily link audience ratings with TV dramas in purchase agreements signed with television production companies in order to attract advertisers, according to Guo, who called on the film and television industry to get together to root out the "tumor" of fake audience ratings.

Guo's Sina Weibo post has made a splash on the Internet, with many people showing strong support to the director.

"I support director Guo's move, and hope that the related departments would take this opportunity to launch a campaign to purify the [film and television] industry," commented a Sina Weibo user.

"Thank director Jingyu for uncovering the filthy things of the industry and for [his courage] to face up to the vicious groups [which sell audience ratings]," wrote another Sina Weibo user.

Guo was echoed by some other industry heavyweights, including well-known film director Lu Chuan, who shared on his Sina Weibo account a similar experience of a director who would not get the balance payment from a television station if he refused to purchase fake audience ratings for his TV drama.

Guo's revelation has drawn attention from the country's media regulator. A day after Guo published the post, the National Radio and Television Administration announced that it has kept an eye on fake audience ratings and has cooperated with the related departments to launch an investigation.

Han Xiao, a Beijing-based lawyer, said that people buying audience ratings are suspected of committing economic crime and television stations using fake audience ratings to attract advertisements are suspected of fraud. But the lawyer stressed that it is difficult to collect evidence because audience ratings purchase is usually done furtively.

Han called on the regulators to set up a modern, transparent system to truly reflect the audience ratings of TV dramas.

Earlier this month, iQiyi, one of China's biggest video streaming platforms, announced to stop showing the number of views to combat click farming, which it said has been detrimental to the creation of a fair competition environment for producers, users and advertisers.

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