Does Beijing really want western screen content?

Michael T George
Updated 6 June 2018

Would Beijing would exclude all outside content into China if they could get away with it?  The USA has few industries that are net exporters (aerospace, armaments, software and entertainment content being among the few).

Certainly, the formal banning that foreign content would generate cries of protectionism from the USA–and retaliation would be inevitable.  So, Beijing has found effective ways to minimize the importation of western content without suffering the consequences.

1)  Only 38 feature films from outside of the Mainland, HK and Macao can play theatrically in China on a royalty basis (meaning that the western supplier receives a percentage of the box office revenues). All other films can be imported on a flat fee basis, which means de facto that the license fees are based on their “least likely value”.

2)  Foreign content is mostly off limits to broadcast tv.  However, western formats are very popular.

3)  VOD there is a double-edged sword.

a) Suppliers of foreign content can be paid via license fee, but cannot receive royalties. (However, if one uses a Mainland Chinese aggregator, this obstacle can be circumvented–so claim the aggregators.)

b) The Mainland government arbitrarily censor foreign content. An innocent show like “The Big Bang Theory” was ordered off of online services by Beijing.  This caused losses for the VOD service and I believe that the reason was to discourage Chinese companies from taking the risk that it would happen again–which was the intended result of the authorities.

Now, there are competing schools of thought as to why the series was banned.

This is not a matter of the Chinese government keeping the trade balance in their favor without ruffling the feathers of their trade “partners”. (Trade suckers would be a better description.) The key objective is to keep outside cultural influences to a minimum, as part of a systematic drive to cut off Mainlanders from all influences deemed inappropriate by Beijing. (Your own challenges in getting access to your gmail account when visiting China is testimony of same.)

The best way to achieve this is to make promises about how they will open up their marketplace, and put laws that codify same in place. Then, in typically Beijing fashion, choose not to enforce them.

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