Netflix, Not in China

Netflix is in every country in the world except North Korea, Syria and China. For North Korea and Syria, it is easy to figure out why, but for China it is more complex. Let us have a look at what has prevented Netflix from entering China.

Netflix Around the WorldCountries where Netflix was offered in early 2017. Source: Business Insider.

Early on, Netflix knew that they had to proceed carefully with their efforts to enter China. They communicated extensively with the national government, interfaced with the proper government departments and studied the business landscape. They were determined to try to find a way into China with its population of 1.4 billion. Unfortunately, they encountered challenges that could not be resolved.

The first hurdle was regulatory. The Chinese government, similarly to western governments established a series of rules that govern what cannot be shown in films, on TV and through on-line streaming. Topics related to health (smoking, drinking, etc.), and sexuality have been extensively regulated in a large number of countries, including Canada, Europe and the USA. China, through SAPPRFT (State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television) has established a more comprehensive series of regulations. Here are the categories of topics that are banned:

  • Does not meet the national conditions and social systems, to the detriment of national image, endangers national unity and social stability
  • Damages ethnic groups unification
  • Violates the state policies on religion
  • Promotes feudal superstitions contrary to science
  • Exaggerates terrorist violence, or shows ugly behaviors that potentially induce crime
  • Contains pornographic or vulgar content
  • Distorts ethnic cultural traditions
  • Harms public morality, adversely affects minors

For each category, comprehensive details were provided resulting is many topics normally covered in shows produced in the West coming into conflict with these rules.

Like so many regulations in China, there is substantial leeway in their interpretation, making life more challenging for companies that need to meet those regulations.

These guidelines were tightened in early 2016, and affected foreign companies like Disney and Apple who both had been able to develop a market for their online entertainment content. Both saw their online services permanently interrupted.

Netflix could not find a way around these comprehensive regulations.

Netflix Regulatory ChallengesNetflix faced regulatory constraints in China. Source: Bidness Etc.

The other challenge that Netflix encountered was the strong desire from the national government to support local champions. Over the years, China has endeavoured to develop local companies in support of a “Made in China” policy that it frequently advocates. This policy is applied firmly particularly if the foreign company has no capabilities to improve the Chinese society. In this area, Netflix was not able to demonstrate that it possessed technology that would be of value in the Chinese market. Even if it had, Netflix would have had to follow the challenging content rules in order to obtain an operating permit.

Netflix - AlibabaNetflix and Alibaba squaring off in China. Source: Bidness Etc.

So, as with many other foreign internet companies like Twitter, Google, Facebook, eBay; Netflix will not be operating in China. Netflix has elected to license in-house developed programs to Chinese companies. But these will bring only modest revenues compared to being able to serve this large market. Instead, Chinese companies, like Alibaba and Tencent will continue providing on-line video streaming services as Netflix had nothing to offer that was of interest to the government.

Pierre

Note: For further details on the regulatory requirements, refer to: https://qz.com/630159/chinas-new-television-rules-ban-homosexuality-drinking-and-vengeance/, or to the original site in Chinese where one can use Google translation to obtain it in English: http://www.gov.cn/flfg/2010-05/20/content_1609751.htm.

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