Following word on Friday that Apple’s iTunes services had been shut down in China, it’s emerged that The Walt Disney Company’s DisneyLife platform may also be a casualty of the nascent Regulation for the Management of Online Publishing Services. The new law — part of a tightening of control over online content — took effect in early March and is designed to regulate overseas content that lands on Chinese screens.
DisneyLife, an OTT service created in partnership with e-commerce giant Alibaba, was unveiled in December. Alibaba, according to The Wall Street Journal, has said the service is down for an upgrade, but the paper’s sources indicated it was suspended at the request of Chinese regulators.
Both Apple and Disney are seen as having successfully built their brands, businesses and relationships in China. The reported move to stymie DisneyLife comes just weeks before Disney is due to open the Shanghai Disney resort — a $5.5B venture that is expected to be a huge boon to the local economy.
DisneyLife reportedly first became unavailable in early March, according to The South China Morning Post. The paper, which is now owned by Alibaba, said the company will provide a full refund to those requesting one. The device costs $125 and comes with a one-year subscription. But there has been consternation on Chinese social media with one customer saying they hadn’t been given a full explanation as to what the issue is with the service or if it will return, The Journal said. (Apple released a statement last Friday saying it hoped to get iTunes up and running “as soon as possible.” Alibaba and Disney could not be reached for comment.)
The new regulation replaced rules established in 2001 after China joined the World Trade Organization. The old law allowed licensed foreign joint ventures to publish original and adapted works online. Per the SCMP, the new law says that Chinese content providers who plan to cooperate with foreign companies or their joint ventures, foreign individuals, and other overseas-based organizations have to gain approval from the regulator. Servers also must be located inside China. It is unclear how, if at all, the partners may have fallen foul of the rules.
Disney is set to open the doors to the Shanghai Resort on June 16 as anticipation grows. The first tickets sold out quickly earlier this year while the new Disney Resort metro station was used today for the first time with about 3,000 passengers arriving before noon to visit the shopping, dining and entertainment district. According to Shanghai Daily, Disney staff guided photo-snapping guests around Disneytown, despite the boutiques and restaurants not yet being open. What’s more, official sponsor China Eastern Airlines yesterday unveiled one in a series of its Disney-themed planes (see above).
Meanwhile, the Mouse is enjoying a fantastic run at Middle Kingdom multiplexes, coming off the record-breaking Zootopia and with The Jugle Book amassing $100M in less than two weeks. Meanwhile, Disney/Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War opens in, and is expecte to dominate, PROC theaters next week.