Chinese Censors Take Aim At Internet TV, Days After Lionsgate And Alibaba Announce Streaming Service

  @EllenKilloran on July 17 2014 1:57 PM

Hollywood may have two feet firmly planted in the Chinese box office, but censors want it to keep its hands off Chinese TVs.

Days after Lionsgate Entertainment Group and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding announced they would be teaming up for a subscription streaming service similar to Netflix, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has reportedly warned seven Internet-TV providers to carefully screen all foreign programming for compliance with state media guidelines, which prohibits content that challenges the values and authority of the ruling Communist Party.

Lionsgate Entertainment World, as the streaming service will be known, will give Chinese audiences access to Lionsgate properties such as “Mad Men,” “The Twilight Saga” film series and “The Hunger Games” franchise. The streaming service is set to launch in August, exclusively on Alibaba’s Internet-TV set-top boxes.

Internet-TV providers who stream foreign content not approved by SARFT can expect an order to remove the offending content within seven days of notice, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Companies will risk losing their licenses if they do not comply with the removal order. SARFT’s intervention is believed by some to be an attempt to tamp down the popularity of Internet-TV, which allows a younger generation of Chinese consumers to bypass state-controlled television with access to foreign programming like “The Vampire Diaries.”  But it’s not certain such restrictions will have SARFT’s desired effect.

"[Those] who are [born after 1980] are more aware of the outer world and they embrace lifestyles of the Western world,” director Lyn Yi told the South China Morning Post. “Many of them are Internet-savvy and they can find ways to get free content online. … It’s impossible to stop such a large number of audiences.”

The Hollywood Reporter and the South China Morning Post noted that in April SARFT revoked the license of China’s largest news portal, Sina.com, because it allowed users to upload uncensored video content.

Chinese censorship has become an elevated concern for Hollywood film and TV distributors as American film productions are increasingly relying on foreign receipts to offset disappointing American box office performances. In April, American director Oliver Stone ruffled the feathers of many in the Chinese filmmaking community when he complained that filmmakers were too soft on the government. Stone’s comments were received as tone deaf by many who recognize the serious risks faced by artists who run afoul of censors.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Alibaba Group’s expected IPO date, previously presumed to be in early August, would now likely take place after Labor Day, when the market picks up after a summer slowdown. 

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