Turning to CNTV for A Comeback

Xiaomi announced a tie-up of its set-top box, Xiaomi Box, and CNTV, the online video provider under the state broadcaster. The announcement has made clear that everything related to video content, the management of content, users and applications, is in the hands of the company behind CNTV. Xiaomi Box will be sold in three cities, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Changsha, for a trial after receiving official approval from authorities.

Local media found that, as expected, the box cannot access online video services Xiaomi touted to offer anymore. Several music or gaming services, however, are still available.

As you may remember, Xiaomi Box suspended service one week after its launch due to the licensing issue. It was estimated that it would be re-launched by removing unauthorized content sources and only offering videos from WASU, the licensee Xiaomi allegedly partnered with. It’s unclear what the issue with WASU side is, as Xiaomi announced that the bundle with CNTV is the first time it officially reached partnership with a licensee partner. It is rumored Lei Jun, founder of Xiaomi, flied over to meet WASU trying to fill the loopholes after the accident.

There are also rumors that one third of the first Xiaomi Box shipment, 15 thousand, will still carry WASU’s content while the rest will carry CNTV’s. Anyway, Xiaomi has no right to decide what videos users can access through its devices.

Play by the Rules

Chinese regulators are not at the same level in terms of restrictions. SARFT, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, is among the toughest. Not only does it decide what can be shown in a film or TV program, but it also controls what can be channeled through any hardware. SARFT only granted seven content providers, such as CNTV and WASU, with the right to play videos they own on TV screens, no matter from anywhere. Hardware makers should have their devices with video content only from one of the seven licensees. And every single piece shipped must have a serial number assigned by SARFT.

Another player, LeTV, who also makes set-top boxes like Xiaomi Box, knows much better about the game rules. LeTV also partnered with CNTV to legitimate its products. What it does differently from Xiaomi is it, to some extent, controls what users can watch by handing over its own online video content to CNTV. It can do so, of course, is because it also runs an online video site, owning a majority of copyrighted Chinese-language videos. LeTV has a film production company that plans to produce about thirty titles each year that will possibly be added to what to show its set-top box users.

But the thing is Chinese always know how to dodge regulations. LeTV set-top boxes include a built-in web browser whose default landing page features links to video sites like Youku and iQiyi. Nobody knows whether SARFT will one day see through the trick. It’s also expected the jailbroken Xiaomi Box will have unauthorized video sources available, just like how Duokan for AppleTV, an online video solution, serves the jailbroken AppleTV users in China.

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at traceyxiang@gmail.com

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