Movie and TV Streaming in China: Censorship and Quotas circa 2015
As of April 2015, easy access to legally licensed (and pirated) Western content online in China is over.
American TV shows will no longer show up on the internet in China almost as soon as they are broadcast in the West.
And the era of self-censorship of Chinese video streaming sites?
All forms of non-Chinese motion picture entertainment for the internet must first go through the Chinese government's official Cyberspace Administration for review and approval.
The censorship regime for Western online content (before it can be accessed legally online in China) is just part of a bigger push to control the messages conveyed in China.
For several years now, the Chinese quota system has allowed only 34 non-Chinese films to play each year on theatrical screens - and all such films must first be submitted to censors and then distributed via China Film Group.
Since April of 2015, a roughly-similar system now exists for the internet - covering feature length films, episodic TV shows and other online motion picture content from outside China.
The rules are tough. Going forward, the Chinese censors are requiring that an entire season of TV episodes be submitted at once through one portal. These censorship rules apply even to Hong Kong content.
For Westerners, China Movie Channel - via its web subsidiary 1905 - is now the single government point of entry to monetize feature length motion pictures and TV shows online in China (similar to China Film Group's exclusive license to import non-Chinese movies for theatrical distribution).
And Western producers need to know that the Chinese censors review process for online content can take up to half a year. (Some Western producers have voiced concerns that a half-year delay will only fuel the demand for pirated copies in China. But that may not be a huge concern for the Chinese authorities. From their perspective, a delay in approving Western content may actually be a good thing - serving the ultimate goal of favoring domestic content.)
In any event - since April 2015, Chinese online video sites Youku Tudou, Baidu's iQIYI, Sohu.com and Tencent must all get their non-Chinese content approved by 1905 and cleared by the censors first.
Is there a quota for outsider online content that is similar to the 34 theatrical films each year?
Instead, the Chinese government has imposed a quota on online content of 70:30 - meaning that for each platform 70% of online content must be Chinese versus a maximum of 30% from outside.
Final question: Are there Western-facing companies that can help Westerners to get their content through the censorship process and onto streaming platforms in China?
Founded by Sid Ganis, Marc Ganis and Kenneth Huang in 2011, Jiaflix has deals to stream a variety of Western films in China. For example, Jiaflix has deals to distribute all of Paramount's library (including the Transformer series that Jiaflix helped to finance) online in China as well as selected Lionsgate, Summit and MGM titles. These Hollywood studio titles are available on the Chinese government-approved digital platforms, 1905.com and wowcinema.com.
The cozy relationship between Jiaflix and the Chinese authorities comes at a price. As noted in the Dec. 26th, 2014 Hollywood Reporter, Transformers: Age of Extinction grossed around US$320 million in China's theaters, but only after "[i]t included propaganda messages about the Chinese government."