Apple Held Talks With China Mobile to Bring Apple TV+ to China

Wayne Ma, reporting for The Information (paywalled, alas; 9to5Mac has a summary):

Apple was in talks last year to launch its Apple TV+ video streaming service in China via a deal with China Mobile, the country’s largest telecommunications provider, according to people with knowledge of the matter. If successful, the talks would make Apple TV+ the only U.S. streaming service to be available in China, one of the world’s biggest markets. The status of the talks is unknown. [...]

Under the terms of the deal being discussed last year, China Mobile would offer Apple TV+ for a monthly fee and feature Apple’s video content prominently on Mobile HD, a set-top box that is included with China Mobile’s broadband service. Apple and China Mobile would split revenue from Apple TV+ subscriptions, the person said.

Apple charges $9.99 for its video streaming service in the U.S., but it would likely have to charge less in China due to the weaker purchasing power of its consumers. For example, Apple Music costs only $1.55 a month in China, compared with $10.99 in the U.S. Video-streaming subscription services in China cost anywhere from between $3 to $5 a month on average.

Ma focuses on the business implications of such a deal. My mind wonders about the content implications. Remember this report by Alex Kantrowitz and John Paczkowski for BuzzFeed News back in 2019, with the subhead “We thought trade would bring Western values to China. Instead, it brought Chinese values to Apple”:

In early 2018 as development on Apple’s slate of exclusive Apple TV+ programming was underway, the company’s leadership gave guidance to the creators of some of those shows to avoid portraying China in a poor light, BuzzFeed News has learned. Sources in position to know said the instruction was communicated by Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of internet software and services, and Morgan Wandell, its head of international content development. It was part of Apple’s ongoing efforts to remain in China’s good graces after a 2016 incident in which Beijing shut down Apple’s iBooks Store and iTunes Movies six months after they debuted in the country. [...]

Apple’s tiptoeing around the Chinese government isn’t unusual in Hollywood. It’s an accepted practice. “They all do it,” one showrunner who was not affiliated with Apple told BuzzFeed News. “They have to if they want to play in that market. And they all want to play in that market. Who wouldn’t?”

I wouldn’t. To hell with the money. The entire rest of the world is more than large enough. It’s a disgrace to have rules in place to avoid upsetting the thin-skinned tyrants who rule the largest totalitarian regime in the history of the world. How is it anything less than cowardice to forbid portraying China as the villains in a movie or show when the CCP is, in fact, villainous? Back in 2020 I wrote:

Ben Thompson beat me to the punch on yesterday’s edition of Dithering, observing that a rule like this about Russia during the Cold War would have blocked the entire James Bond franchise from existing, not to mention just about any lesser spy movies from the era. Or what of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? Like the Soviet Union in the decades after WWII, China is not some obscure small player on the world stage, and they systematically do things that deserve to be portrayed “in a poor light”. To take China off the table is to take much of what’s going on geopolitically in the world today off the table.

I get it, of course. I don’t agree with it, artistically or ethically, but I get it: money talks, and China is where Apple assembles most of its products and a big market where it sells them, too. But just because it’s so transparently obvious why Apple would forbid any negative portrayals of China doesn’t make it any less outrageous. [...]

Which studios or streaming services would bankroll today’s equivalent of Charlie Chaplin’s classic The Great Dictator, with Xi Jinping in Hitler’s place as the deserving target of satiric mockery? Netflix — which doesn’t offer its service in China and has no dependence on theatrical box office revenue — maybe?

What’s next, removing the Taiwanese flag emoji from the keyboard for users in Hong Kong because Winnie the Xi’s feelings are hurt that Taiwan remains staunchly independent? Oh, wait, that happened 5 years ago.

Tuesday, 4 June 2024