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Netflix alternative Mubi cancels plan to launch localized service in China

TechCrunch TechCrunch 20/06/2016 Jon Russell

Mubi, an alternative take on Netflix, has scrapped plans to launch a local version of its streaming service in China.

Back in January, the London-based company announced plans to introduce a joint-venture alongside Huanxi Media, a local media production firm in China, as part of a deal that would see Huanxi invest a total of $50 million into both Mubi China and the global Mubi service.

That isn’t going ahead, according to a filing made to the Hong Kong stock exchange from Huanxi, which explained that the previous agreement has been terminated. Huanxi didn’t provide a reason for the termination, but it did say that both sides are “discussing other possible forms of cooperation.”

There’s no suggestion at this point that the decision impacting Mubi — which differs from Netflix and others through a rolling selection of 30 films which are available for a month and mainly independent productions — is censorship-related, but it is hard to ignore recent issues in China’s online content space.

Apple’s iTune Movies and iBooks stores were closed down in China in April — again, without comment — just six months after launch. Then, less than a week after Apple’s about-turn, Disney’s video streaming service — DisneyLife — was shuttered barely five months after its launch on Chinese soil.

In the latter case, government involvement was suspected despite DisneyLife launching in partnership with Alibaba, the kind of partner most overseas firms would seek out for dealing with government-related issues. While Apple only said it hoped to relaunch the services “soon,” the New York Times reported that they were forced offline after an order from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

TechCrunch has contacted Mubi for comment, but we haven’t received a response at the time of writing.

Uncertainties around censorship, the existence of hugely-popular rival video services, and the need to find a solid partner are among the reasons why Netflix is yet to roll out in China. The U.S. firm stunned the media industry when it launched in 130 new countries in one go in January, but China is notably one of just three countries on the planet where its service isn’t available today.

There has been plenty of speculation about whether the company would enter China. Netflix was reportedly in talks with Alibaba over a potential partnership, but that alliance seemed less likely after Alibaba launched its own subscription-based streaming service in China. Nonetheless, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has consistently said he is aiming to bring the service to Chinese shores: this news just made it clearer why the company — which has the added pressure of being a listed entity — is taking its sweet time over that.

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