Netflix is dipping its toe in China—and the battle for streaming supremacy in Asia begins

Game on.
Game on.
Image: David Giesbrecht/Netflix
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This year is proving a turning point for streaming video in Asia—and it’s not only Netflix.

The US-based video giant recently abandoned its hopes of streaming in the country on its own because of strict laws governing media there. But this week, it landed a deal to bring Netflix originals to iQiyi, a local online video platform.

Netflix’s deal with iQiyi offers an opening into a region for which Netflix has eagerly awaited legal entry. In 2014, Netflix licensed its popular political drama House of Cards to Sohu’s streaming service. The show was a hit (paywall), but was later pulled due to censorship laws. Chinese viewers are still watching it, though, just not legally; it is now one of the most popular countries in terms of piracy of that show. The adult animated original Bojack Horseman also has an impressive local fanbase, despite never having been shown there.

Netflix said on Thursday that originals like Stranger Things and Black Mirror will be among the first Netflix programs to appear on the platform, and cautioned that its expectations for the deal were modest. There are still hurdles the pair will need to contend with before Netflix’s originals can join the platform. China has tough restrictions on subjects from drinking to fighting to homosexuality—and each program will need approval from regulators. Lawmakers also cap foreign TV content (paywall) on China’s streaming sites at 30%.

iQiyi reportedly has 500 million monthly viewers and is in the midst of transitioning from an ad-supported model into an on-demand subscription service, like Netflix. It’s vying against rival services from Alibaba’s Youku Tudou, Sohu, and Tencent for the Chinese market.

Outside of China, the battles are a little less regulated and far more heated.

Hooq, a Southeast Asian service in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand (all of which Netflix is present in) is also investing in originals. It plans to produce five new original series to stream on its service, which is backed by Singtel, Sony Pictures Television, and Warner Bros.

Then there’s iFlix, which currently operates in 10 Asian countries including Malaysia and the Philippines, but is expanding into eight more in the Middle East and North Africa and could become a real contender in the region. iFlix reportedly has 5 million subscribers in Asia. And it carries both Asian and Western programming, from studios like Disney, Warner Bros., and Paramount.

And, of course, there’s Amazon Prime Video, which took its platform global last year and is in more territories than Netflix. But neither Amazon nor Hooq nor iFlix are in China as of yet.