Given the sheer scale and reach of pirate sites either operated from Vietnam, or with direct connections to Vietnam, describing the country as a global piracy problem wouldn’t be a stretch.
After being briefed by Hollywood for the umpteenth time, that’s certainly the view of the United States government. Yet despite reported progress, including an overhaul of Vietnam’s copyright laws and promises to crack down on piracy, including the formation of a specialist anti-piracy unit, nothing has had any visible effect.
However, turn off a few legal TV channels inside Vietnam and suddenly piracy is a real concern.
International Pay TV Channels Withdraw
Sài Gòn Giải Phóng, a media outlet owned by the Communist Party of Vietnam, published a report yesterday claiming that during October and November, TV channels “disappeared” from pay TV subscription packages. National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild were named specifically along with their owner, Disney.
Other channels under the same ownership including Fox Movies, Fox Sports, Disney Channel and Disney Junior, were previously withdrawn, the paper reported.
To explain the exodus, the article cites Nguyen Thanh Lam, Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Information and Communications. He says that film companies and other entertainment content businesses, Disney included, believe that traditional television has run its course and video-on-demand services are the future.
Since launching the Disney+ service, the article continues, Disney has begun to put everything it has onto the platform; it even had a message during the service’s launch ceremony: “Goodbye cable TV.”
Disney+ is indeed widely available; Aladdin and Anastasia can be viewed in Algeria and Albania, Bambi and Bagheera in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately nothing for Vietnam, though, since Disney+ isn’t available there.
The article stresses the entire Southeast Asian market has seen international TV companies withdraw content but according to recent data, Disney+ is available in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
As things stand, there’s no real option to view the lost channels in Vietnam anymore, at least not legally.
Vietnam’s Government Voices Piracy Concerns
The theory that making content legally available is the only way to ensure legal sales appears clear to Vietnam’s government. The last thing a market needs is a gap opening up for pirates to exploit, as the article explains:
According to the Ministry of Information and Communications, although the withdrawal from the pay cable TV market in Vietnam is due to a change in the business orientation of the above channels, this also raises many concerns about the gap that these channels will leave behind. What is left is an opportunity for pirates, pirated websites, and illegal profits to run rampant when people’s need to watch sports, watch movies, listen to music….is very large
To show the scale of the demand, the article cites figures compiled by the Ministry of Information and Communications. As of October 2023, the number of pay TV subscribers in Vietnam reached 18.7 million, an increase of 12.3% over the same period last year. Pay TV revenue as of the third quarter of 2023 had reached VND 7,500 billion ($307.5 million), up 1.4% over the same period in 2022.
The government is apparently seeking recommendations on which companies can step in to fill the pay TV gap; it also appears to be painting the loss as an opportunity.
“From a positive perspective, the withdrawal of international television channels is also an opportunity for domestic television channels to have more customers,” the Communist Party-owned publication notes. “Besides, if people continue to support pirated websites, businesses providing official services will no longer buy copyrighted content at high costs – something that happened in the past. At that time, people will also be disadvantaged.”
If Only Someone Could Do Something
Regardless of the overt or underlying reasons for withdrawing the channels, entertainment companies have a primary mission to generate profit and if a business is profitable in certain regions or product areas, those are only discarded for exceptional reasons. There are significant problems in Vietnam regarding the country’s Cinema Law (report, page 10 (pdf)) but the piracy problem never gets any better.
When Vietnam did conduct some kind of crackdown, the focus wasn’t on U.S. content being pirated and then distributed all over the world, it was on pirated sports content from overseas being consumed inside the country. Blocking a reported 1,000 sites presented few problems for the authorities then.
Yet according to the U.S. Department of Trade, despite Vietnam being host to the world’s “most egregious piracy sites” there is no clear or effective enforcement path available against these sites or their operators.”