Apparently more Chinese consumers than ever are switching to paid subscription services, but just how much are Internet giants like Baidu doing to keep a lid on piracy?
By Tom Royds, Vistex
Seen as better than no deal at all, recently Netflix struck a licensing agreement with Baidu’s SVOD platform iQiyi for its popular shows “Stranger Things,” “Black Mirror” and “BoJack Horseman.” And the agreement was done in the face of tough regulation: streaming sites can only operate if they form a joint venture with another Chinese company, use local data centers and ensure that 70% of all content carried is locally produced.
Research firm Futuresource highlights U.S. and feature films as the main justification why consumers are switching from free and/or unlicensed services. But when content can be accessed so easily via non-legitimate means, are these services doing enough to entice consumers to part with their hard-earned yuans?
In 2015, I refocused my priorities and took some time to live and work as an English teacher in Beijing. As hardworking as they were crafty, the vast majority of my students age 11 and up had worked out ways to get around The Great Firewall, utilizing VPNs or torrenting “Western” versions of blockbusters, unapproved and unaltered by the state-regulator SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television).
Just a 20-minute walk from my school in neighboring tech-area Shangdi, sits the headquarters of internet giant Baidu. Arguably one of China’s biggest success stories, the firm has cleaned house of DVD resellers and normalized the idea of on-demand video streaming.
Baidu splits out its operations like Google across areas such as search, maps, translation and storage. The latter, called Baidu Cloud, offers a free 1TB service, allowing users to upload and share video content. Popular among classrooms and university halls, with a basic grasp of Mandarin, it’s very easy to search for illegal content direct from their search engine and sync it to your account for later viewing on a tablet or phone.
The leaking of hit political drama “In The Name of People” to Baidu Cloud was felt by state-owned Hunan Television, which reportedly purchased exclusive broadcast rights to the show for 220 million yuan ($44.6 million). The whopping 55-part series, funded in part by China state prosecutors, was leaked halfway through its run and found to be available for as little as 8.8 RMB (around 90p) across a variety of unlicensed platforms.
According to a recent survey by Dutch security firm Irdeto, only 58% of Chinese consumers think streaming or downloading pirated content is illegal, despite 84% knowing that doing so is illegal.
So how do you change someone’s behavior, when they don’t think what they’re doing is wrong?
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is finally honing in on the anonymity of services like Baidu Cloud, announcing this week that users must register with their real identities before June 2017 or risk being prevented from using the services. “The purpose is not to control Internet users, but to better regulate Internet operators to manage online information,” says Wang Sixin, a professor specializing in media law and regulations at the Communication University of China.
Whether this move will prevent piracy or just push it elsewhere remains an unknown, perhaps The National Copyright Administration has a thing or two to learn from those smarties in the classroom.