The government's broadcast regulator issued a surprise order last week to online streaming companies to stop showing sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," political and legal drama "The Good Wife," crime drama "NCIS" and legal drama "The Practice." The first two are particularly popular with the young online audience.
"Give me back Sheldon," referring to the socially inept physicist on "The Big Bang Theory," was a popular refrain among social media users angry at the show's disappearance. Other users said the bans still wouldn't make them go back to watching surreal wartime dramas on state television.
"I believe it's a stand-alone event and it does not represent the policy trend or change toward American TV shows," Charles Zhang, Soho CEO and founder, said on a conference call.
Nasdaq-listed Sohu, which was the first Chinese online video site to license American TV shows, had rights to show two of the programs.
Zhang said Monday he had no explanation for the order and no comment on the possible reason. He said he didn't know if the ban will be temporary or permanent.
Adding to the mystery, a media and translation agency said Monday it was subtitling "The Big Bang Theory" for the state broadcaster, China Central Television.
An employee of Beijing-based CBM said they were translating the show and would return it to CCTV with captions in Chinese. The employee only gave his surname, Li, and referred to a statement posted on the company's website earlier this month that said the translation of "The Big Bang Theory" was under way and would be shown soon on CCTV.
Calls to CCTV's press department were not answered. Its website, CNTV, listed the seventh season of "The Big Bang Theory," but episodes were unable to load.
Sohu's Zhang said he didn't know about the translation for CCTV, and said Sohu had exclusive online rights to the show in mainland China.
The move follows a restructuring of China's regulatory agencies that appears to have given the broadcast regulator more authority over video websites.
Beijing has in the past allowed video websites to operate with few of the restrictions that movie and TV broadcasters face, possibly to avoid stifling what was seen as a promising high-tech industry.
Video websites, with looser controls, show dramas and comedies from the United States, South Korea and Europe and their own programs. They were not required to submit programs for approval, which allowed them to get imported material on the air faster than TV stations. In March, the regulator issued a notice saying programs and films lacking licenses could not be shown online.
AP researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.