China's top media authority has ordered the nation's major video websites to remove four high-profile American TV series from their sites.
No specific reason was given for the order from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said public relations managers at Youku and Tencent Video.
Popular shows that were removed included The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice. Sohu also removed The Big Bang Theory, a show it had exclusively licensed.
Visitors to the sites are now greeted by a written apology that says "We're sorry for being unable to provide video services now due to policy reasons".
Many netizens have complained in particular about the removal of The Big Bang Theory, which has been played more than 1.1 billion times since 2009, making it the most watched American TV series on Chinese video websites. In March, the administration said it would strengthen the management of Internet video and audio programs, and require that online content be examined by at least three qualified personnel.
The administration also said that programs should be removed immediately if their content is against regulations. Inappropriate content includes promoting superstition or glamorizing violence, salaciousness or gambling.
The Hollywood Reporter speculated that the policies in March could be a possible sign of "tighter control over online distribution of Hollywood content in China".
Peng Kan, a consultant at Legend Media, which specializes in TV industry development, said he was confused by the choice of programs that were removed because they did not seem inappropriate.
"The fuzzy standards are always a problem. They don't give you an explicit criterion beforehand. But when you make a mistake or when they think you make a mistake, you'll get caught," he said.
"So there is and will be a long process of testing each other's boundaries and making counterstrategies."
Content on Chinese video websites was not previously subject to the administration's direct examination and there was not a quota restriction for purchasing overseas programs.
With 400 million online video viewers, Chinese video websites have been spending heavily on licensing American TV series and creating their own content, both with more stimulating subjects than what is usually allowed on TV.
"I think that the advantages Chinese video websites enjoyed thanks to looser examination will probably come to an end," Peng said.