Decision 20, administered on May 15, 2013, prevents local retransmission of four categories of foreign TV channels – movie channels; news channels; channels offering scientific and education programmes and documentaries; and channels offering entertainment, sports and music; requiring them to pay for simultaneous translation for all of their programming into Vietnamese. In order to do so, Decision 20 compels foreign TV channels such as CNBC, Eurosport and STAR World to register with Vietnam’s information and communication ministry so as to obtain an approved editing licence.
The “Decision”, largely seen as an effort by the Vietnamese government to regain control over the pay- TV sector which boomed in recent years, will make it consequently difficult for any LIVE broadcasting to be carried out within the country. This is slated to include the highly sought after and upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, to be distributed by MP & Silva.
According to Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), a foreign programme on all foreign pay-TV providers must meet five pre-decided conditions – largely geared towards meeting local regulatory requirements with a special focus on language requirements, regulated by the Foreign Programme Supplying Organisation (FPSO) proposed under the new regulation.
Industry Reaction to Rulings
In retrospect, Vietnam continues to be a hot destination within the industry with plenty of opportunities for growth. In response to the Decision, Fox International Channels (FIC) decided to opt for an Editing License for five of its existing channels on the K+ platform, instead of choosing to remove all of its existing channels from the Vietnamese platform.
BBC World News, one of the affected channels, commented that “BBC World News is committed to delivering high quality impartial news to audiences across Vietnam and we are in continued discussions with Vietnamese authorities on the matter.”
Additionally, Japan’s NHK also commented that “NHK intends to talk with Vietnamese government and broadcasters in order to resume the service at the earliest possible date.”
In a statement released by CASBAA, John Medeiros, Chief Policy Officer highlighted an apparent “confusion”, largely due to the requirement to translate content in Vietnamese.
“Even Vietnamese operators of pay-TV systems cannot be sure how the regulations will be implemented, much less international channels.” He went on to say that “the government at the highest levels has expressed its intention not to exclude international channels from Vietnam. And indeed, some changes to translation requirements for news channels were introduced, in order to remove operating burdens on them. However, there seem to be roadblocks in implementing this policy. Overall, the licensing regulations on the books remain restrictive in their effects. No licenses have been issued to international channels of any genre in the last six months. Contracting requirements for editing of news channels remain problematic.”
While the MIC report claims that Decision 20’s purpose was to encourage and “meet the people’s increasing demands on entertainment”, the state’s TV digitalisation programme scheduled to be completed by 2020 fails to reflect the same. The programme, carried out in four phases, is a conscious endeavour by the government to transit from analogue to terrestrial digital TV.
The transition, which requires all screen technologies (LED, LCD, PDP amongst others) to integrate digital TVs with receivers from January 4, 2015, will undoubtedly affect millions within the state. Demand is picking up though. Findings from Gfk retail audit showed that while general TV sales have slowed down in 2012, there has been an escalating demand for more sophisticated technologies such as LED TVs by almost three fold – a result of the rising awareness and technological sophistication of consumers. Still, the switch to digital will see some 8.5 million Vietnamese (almost 10% of the entire population) hailing from lower-income families affected if they fail to receive support from the State.
Good news is coming, in the form of subsidies for digital set-top-boxes. The recent transition to digital has seen a drop in charges for set-top boxes from ranges of VND400,000 – VND500,000 to VND140,000 – VND200,000 – a drastic plunge of four times over. Last year, Deputy Prime Minister of MIC, Le Nam Theng, said that the government will support digitalisation with subsidies to lower income families so as to ensure access to set-top boxes. The difference is highly comparable to a 12-month K+ basic access subscription charged at VND1,725,000.
Popularity of Foreign Programmes
While local content is still king, regional broadcasters and major platform providers are finding success with an expanding list of local adaptations of successful foreign formats. 2012 would have seen a local version of NBCUniversal’s popular game show Minute to Win It, while the award-winning cooking competition series Top Chef would soon be launched in Vietnam. Also, Vietnam’s VTV has embarked on its latest production in collaboration with Japan’s Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, Inc (TBS); a large-scale drama copro The Partner, featuring leads by both countries with a proposed same-day launch date later this year. Local production company Cattiensa had also announced late last year that it would adapt ITV Studios Global Entertainment’s (ITVS GE) Popstar to Operastar, scheduled to debut on free-to-air operator VTV3.
While foreign imports stream in steadily, Vietnam’s media industry is also seeking to export its made-in-Vietnam content beyond its borders as well. Vietnam TV, in agreement with Singapore’s leading and only free-to-air platform MediaCorp, opened its first Singapore bureau in efforts to commemorate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The bureau was opened early this year under the Agreement for Cooperation, a by-product of the Memorandum of Understanding on cultural and information cooperation signed by both countries in 1998.