Netflix Comes to China, Maybe [Video]

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Netflix has plans to establish itself in communist China, without the benefit of a local partner. In fact, the fast-growing movie and TV streaming site feels that a partnership might complicate things.

Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Tom Sardanos says that partnerships can be difficult to manage, which could further hamper the venture’s success. He intends to obtain the multiple licenses needed to operate Netflix legally in China on his own. After previously exploring that option, Sarandos believes that this avenue has the potential to work.  This might be an uphill battle because popular western entertainment staples such as YouTube, Google, and even Facebook are censored in the communist country.

Even after obtaining the proper licenses, the subject of content comes up. Although House of Cards and Marco Polo have proved quite popular in China, most other content is censored for violence and adult content. The government wants control over what is seen online. New regulatory rules dictate that a new series be reviewed for content before it is broadcast. This works for both television series and movies that film in one block.

Other shows that film episodically may be problematic. Among shows that did not cut the mustard with China’s censors are Empire, Fox’s breakout hit, and ABC’s Agent Carter. Ironically, sexual innuendo overflows into the plots of CBS’s Two Broke Girls, which is still allowed to stream in the country.  American Horror Story, produced by Fox, also escapes the censors, despite its fixation on violence and gore. South Korea’s Pinocchio was placed on the banned list as well.

Those same regulatory rules apply to China’s protectorate, Hong Kong. This contradictory inclusion belies the fact that Hong Kong is a special administrative region relative to China since England “returned” the city to China in 1997. It is interesting to see Hong Kong listed with other “foreign” production companies who must first receive approval for Chinese viewing.  However, local Chinese online sites such as Tudou, Tencent, and Youku intend to comply. Parenthetically, China and Britain are making tenuous steps to reestablishing friendly ties after Prince William’s visit in March. It was the first official visit in almost thirty years; the aim of which was to establish the U.K. and China Cultural Year of Exchange.

Hong Kong

The legal ways to view Netflix come entangled in red tape, and also take a bit of time to iron out. However, there are entire websites dedicated to teaching the masses how to access Netflix without going through the proper channels. Using a VPN hides the original URL, giving the computer an American URL. Getting a VPN costs $10 per month and Netflix runs $8 per month, meaning that less than $20 per month brings thousands of television shows and movies via Netflix, without the hassle of censorship.

Ultimately, it is all a money game. Netflix is looking at China as a cash cow. Although Netflix recently expanded into Cuba, the company cannot make much money in a developing country with very little internet infrastructure in place. Netflix CEO Robert Hasting and Sarandos know that China is a huge market. As the second-largest market in the world, Hollywood movie and television studios are already making money off of local Internet partner sites such as Tuduo, Tencent, and Youko. Netflix intends to do what it must to make their business transaction come to fruition.

By Danielle Branch

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Photo Courtesy of Trey Ratcliff – Flickr License
Photo Courtesy of Steve Webel – Flickr License