When it comes to controlling content, the Chinese government is more vigilant than most. A familiar frenemy to most major U.S. tech companies, it frequently clashes with the likes of Google to filter our search results and content that it finds objectionable (which doesn’t take much).
While the country undoubtedly wants the connections and revenue that come with attracting such major brands and services to its shores, the commitment to freedom of information that they bring is far less appealing.
Now it appears that TV and movies will be the next content frontier on which this China censorship battle will be fought.
Through a series of convoluted red tape measures, Chinese internet service providers who plan to air imported shows will be subject to increased scrutiny and editing before popular titles like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Breaking Bad” can hit China’s screens. For companies who could otherwise immediately serve up these headline shows to an eager domestic audience the delays are likely to grate.
The piracy angle to this story is perhaps the most frustrating, given that availability is such a crucial part of the formula for convincing viewers to use legal services. When shows aren’t available via a legitimate platform, the chances are that they can be accessed through an illegitimate one. In this case everyone except the piracy site loses, as legal services are denied a paying viewer, revenue is lost to the original creator, and even China’s government fails in its mission to censor an imported show. Many titles on piracy sites simply run in their original, unedited form, potentially cutting the government out of the loop entirely.
This comes at a time when China’s curious mix of capitalism-backed Communism has its own media giants extending their reach into Hollywood. Alibaba, for one, is coming off the back of a hugely successful IPO and a strong financial quarter, with a significant part of its plans to capture new users lying in the U.S. creative industries. On the export side, American studios are showing huge interest in further exploration of the Chinese movie-going market, where imported films are already subject to quota yet make up a little less than half of the country’s box office.
With such a rapid acceleration of its entertainment industry on both the import and export front, China’s government is going to have to balance an increasing number of spinning plates as it seeks to censor incoming content, curb piracy that circumvents its efforts, and still exploit the economic value that the creative industries present.