As viewers in China prepared to settle back and watch a bilingual live-stream of the 88th Academy Awards, word spread that iQiyi's stream had been abruptly cancelled. No reason was given for the cancellation, but another live-stream of the event by Chinese government-run OTT site 1905.com went forward as planned.
It's a move that would be unheard of in the U.S. but apparently is taking place more often as the Chinese government reportedly takes a tighter hold on the reins of online video providers in the country. And that could spell trouble for U.S. media companies like ESPN and Netflix as they work to make inroads across China's OTT ecosystem.
For example, ESPN recently signed a deal to live-stream the NBA Playoffs, with Mandarin-language commentary, on Tencent. March Madness, the X Games, and coverage of local sporting events will also be produced and live-streamed by ESPN for sports fans in China.
Netflix, in the meantime, is continuing to look at various strategies for launching in China. Some of its content is already licensed to stream in the country -- but every episode of its original series like House of Cards is subject to review by government censors and could be pulled with no warning.
The SVOD provider recently got a taste of what operating in China might be like, when Indonesia's main telecommunications provider blocked Netflix from streaming within the country due to complaints about its content and reputed permitting issues.
Events like Sunday's cancelled Oscars live-stream may give media companies pause, however. It isn't clear why iQiyi had to suddenly pull its planned stream; the company would not comment to media other than to confirm it had been cancelled.
China's government has cancelled other live streams and broadcasts recently. The Hollywood Reporter noted that both Tencent and CCTV cancelled their respective stream and broadcast of the Hong Kong Film Awards because the show had nominated a film that portrayed a negative impression of China's control over Hong Kong.
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