Amazon Prime Video is now available in over 200 countries and territories around the world, but not China. Though, it’s not like China was the only one left out, North Korea and Iran also won’t have access to Amazon’s video streaming service.
It seems that Amazon followed much the same playbook as did Netflix during its global rollout in January when it expanded service to 130 new places around the globe, China not included.
In China, both companies see the same problems: regulation and censorship, not to mention already well-entrenched domestic competition.
At first, Netflix stated that it was keeping its options open when it comes to China, but then waved the white flag in a letter to shareholders in October, citing the “challenging” regulatory environment.
“Challenging” might be a bit of an understatement.
In recent years, China’s media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has repeatedly cracked down on anything entertaining and/or foreign. In March, the government regulator introduced new rules banning television shows from depicting “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content,” including smoking, drinking, adultery, sexual freedom, homosexuality, perversion and reincarnation. They followed that up a month later with another regulation against reality shows featuring child stars.
Still, rules against streaming foreign programming have been even more onerous. In 2014, SAPPRFT said that all foreign TV shows and movies must have permits and be reviewed by TV watchdogs before being made available for online viewing in China, causing a mass exodus of American and British TV shows from China’s popular streaming services. This came after the organization went so far as to remove four potentially harmful American TV shows from Chinese streaming sites — including “The Big Bang Theory.”
In June, SAPPRFT announced even stricter broadcast limits on foreign programming in June, saying that satellite TV channels will no longer be allowed to broadcast overseas programs without approval from regulators, while also limiting them to broadcasting only two programs with imported copyrights during prime time from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. every year.
And yet, things are still even more difficult for foreign streaming services trying to operate in China. In April, Disney’s video streaming partnership with Alibaba was promptly shut down only five months after its launch. That same month, Apple’s iTunes movie store was blocked without explanation, and it remains so.
To top it all off, China’s online video-streaming market is already totally dominated by strong services that are owned by multi-billion-dollar tech giants that can afford to operate inside the “dumpster fire of cash” that the competitive streaming market has become in China.
What we’re trying to say is that maybe you should find somewhere else to watch “The Grand Tour.”
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