It’s been a long hard road for many American companies trying to get a foothold on the massive emerging consumer market in China. Tech, sales, electronics, and entertainment media companies have all found themselves on the wrong side of China’s international business hurdles.
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, are blocked by the country. Amazon has struggled to gain access, and Netflix finally just gave up, citing challenges with the “regulatory environment.” But some companies continue trying to chip away at Chinese resolve, hoping to find an amicable way in. One of the biggest names to continue to fight for the right to market to China is Disney.
The massive media giant has been desperately trying to get its movies to be shown in China for some time, and, finally, a deal was recently announced with Alibaba to stream more than 1,000 Disney movies and TV shows through the Youku video platform.
This sounds like a big win, but it’s really more of a foothold. At this point, only 30 million households will have access to the content. And there’s no guarantee it will last. Disney and Alibaba have been here before. DisneyLife, another streaming program in China, lasted less than six months before being closed down by Chinese regulators.
For Disney, the demise of DisneyLife was just a stumble along the way to a better option and a better deal. Executives told the media they expected other opportunities to get into the Chinese market and grow a base. Many market watchers were dubious, but this next venture with Alibaba appears to be the answer to that hope.
One of the concessions Disney is giving up in this operation is autonomy. Even as the company is working to debut its own branded streaming channels in the United States, Disney will still have to rely on second-party vendors like Alibaba if it has any real hope at all of establishing long-term market share in China.
Despite the lack of media success in China, Disney has seen some inroads in other industries. The company built a massive theme park in Shanghai, and that has seen good success. The Chinese government seemed entirely content to have a monument to Disney branded content in the center of one of its most important cities, but it draws a different line when it comes to Disney content in homes and on smartphones.
So, will Disney be an outlier in this, or will other US entertainment media properties hope to connect with licensed providers to get into the Chinese market? At this point, the answer to that question appears to be that they are waiting to see how it goes with Disney before making any new moves.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations