American Streaming Video Services Grapple With Global Politics

Over-the-top video is a global market with distribution as easy as creating an online network and the click of a button. While globalization is a boon for American media companies and Hollywood, there is an inconvenient flipside that comes with the territory: censorship.

The Feb. 23 broadcast of HBO’s political commentary/satire show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” was blocked Feb. 25 in India by Disney-owned Hotstar — a streaming service with more than 100 million monthly viewers. Disney acquired the service through it $71 billion purchase of select 21st Century Fox assets.

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The episode featured a lengthy criticism by Oliver of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist President Trump is currently meeting with in India.

Disney has big goals for Hotstar (which will soon be rebranded Disney+ Hotstar), believing the service can not only help Disney+ gain a footing in one of the world’s largest markets, but also successfully compete with Netflix.

IHS Markit estimates that Netflix has 1.2 million subscribers in India, less than half of Hotstar’s three million.

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At the same time, Disney, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, is discovering that carving out niche markets abroad can require agreeing to a type of government oversight unheard of in the United States.

Rather than air the Modi episode, Hotstar streamed an older episode of “Last Week.”

When Netflix found itself in the crosshairs of Saudi Arabian officals for an episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan MinHaj” critical of Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the SVOD behemoth deleted the episode. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings later defended the decision, saying the service was in the entertainment business, not the “truth to power business.” CCO Ted Sarandos then attempted to clarify the comment, claiming Netflix was indeed in the “truth to power business,” but that sometimes that also meant agreeing to the whims of local government.

Amazon last November took down the fifth season of “Madam Secretary” in India after government objections to the political drama’s reported focus on Hindu nationalism and violence against Muslims and other minorities in India.


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