Is China really set for an online advertising boom?

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China’s has the largest online population on the planet, over 500-million people by most estimates. Add in 300-million people with accounts on its various microblogging sites (called weibos) and you can see why advertisers might be clamouring to go online.

That drive for online advertising is only being fuelled by the fact that authorities are placing restrictions on broadcast advertising.

According to online research company eMarketer, the Chinese government is making it increasingly difficult for companies to buy prime time advertising from broadcasters like CCTV.

It also put a halt to commercial breaks during dramas and cut back on the number of entertainment shows.

eMarketer reckons that “digital media owners in China are elated” and envision “more money heading their way, especially from advertising related to growth areas such as microblogging… online video viewing and smartphone usage”.

That does not, however, mean that the country’s web space is an open platform where advertisers can push through whatever message they want.

China’s internet is heavily censored through a series of controls colloquially known as the Great Firewall of China.

The country’s various homegrown social networks are undoubtedly popular. Its social leaders include Tencent QZone (with 536-million users), Tencent Weibo (310-million), Sina Weibo (300- million), Renren (137-million) and Kaixin001 (116-million).

They are, nonetheless, subject to the same restrictions as any other website in China.

In fact, Sina Weibo recently expressed concerns that new rules forcing it to verify the names of its users would impact on the way it makes money.

“We believe the requirement to convert existing users into verified users…will have a negative impact on user activity in the short-term,” Charles Chao, chief executive of Sina, told reporters in a recent earnings call.

The new rules are as a result of people using the platform to criticise government officials and their handling of corruption, scandals and disasters.

In the face of this kind of criticism, authorities looked to regain control.

Initially the companies behind the weibos said they would block the accounts of users they deemed guilty of spreading false information after being approached by high-level officials.

Authorities then vowed to intervene more directly, hunting down and even arresting users it claimed were spreading rumours online.

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