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Online videos pull millions from TVs

ZHANG Minxiao, owner of a trading company in east China's Jiangsu Province, has not turned on a television since 2008. Instead, the 29-year-old businessman now spends more than 20 hours every week watching programs on the Internet, often sports.

"I enjoyed watching my favorite programs any time I like. I watched nearly 50 matches of this year's World Cup on the Internet," said the busy entrepreneur, who is also a die-hard fan of Argentina.

Zhang said Chinese TV viewers would not have access to programs produced outside the Chinese mainland, unless they paid extra fees for satellite TV channels. However, online video sites provide more choices, notably, for free.

"A great attraction of watching serials on the Internet is that you'll not be bothered by the interminable advertisement that is broadcast every 15 minutes during an episode," Zhang said. He began watching online videos in 2003.

For Zhao Yayuan, a 25-year-old enthusiast of American and Japanese soap operas, the limited number of serials broadcast on television cannot satisfy her growing appetite.

"Chinese TV stations just broadcast old serials again and again," said Zhao, who worked for the Beijing-based China Today.

Zhao spends her leisure time hunting for the latest episode of the hottest foreign serials on Youku and Tudou, two popular video websites in China.

"The updates of hit serials on such websites can be simultaneous or a one-day delay at most, compared with the broadcasting schedule of foreign TV channels. Besides, I can decide when and how many episodes to watch," Zhao said.

Zhang and Zhao are among many Chinese web users who prefer online videos for a wider selection of programs and a more flexible watching schedule.

By June 2010, the number of the Internet users in China had hit 420 million, according to a report issued by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

An earlier survey, also conducted by the CNNIC, noted that by the end of 2009 about 240 million web users, mostly males aged 10 to 29, watched online videos. Some 67 percent of the total spent less time watching TV programs while nearly 40 million users had abandoned watching traditional TV.

Although major video websites are dragging more viewers away from television sets, they also provide a win-win opportunity for China's TV industry.

In recent years, the boom of delivering television programs on the Internet has brought large profits to their producers, said Li Jingsheng, an official with the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

"The TV program producers can earn big money by selling the Internet copyright of its works to websites, while the latter will win more clicks," said Wang Chong, a teacher of journalism and communications with the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing.

In March 2010, the Internet copyright of the 60-episode serial, "Journey to the West," which was adapted from a Chinese classic, was sold for 16.8 million yuan (US$2.5 million), while the popular 81-episode sitcom, "My Own Swordsman," was sold for a mere 100,000 yuan in 2006.

Accompanied by the rapid development of video websites, however, the number of lawsuits over copyright piracy on the Internet among websites, their counterparts and program producers has surged.

"This shows all parties' rising awareness of their due rights, which is good for the healthy development of the industry," said Wang, who also called for regulations to combat copyright piracy.

"The video websites should enhance oversight on their users and delete illegal content that is uploaded by users and often causes copyright disputes," said Lu Heng, a PhD in the Department of Media and Communications with the City University of Hong Kong.


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