Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA), has refused to kowtow to China after an episode of its animated show “South Park” was deemed critical of regulators in the world’s most populous country. The parent company’s Chinese operations could suffer from political backlash. This is the opposite of the actions taken by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Blizzard Entertainment after getting mired in China-related controversy.
In the case of Viacom, the firestorm followed the airing of a “South Park” episode titled ‘Band in China’ where there are multiple storylines all critical of Beijing. This includes ridiculing Hollywood for placing commercial interests over principles by shaping its content in a way that avoids offending the Chinese government.
‘Band in China’ – “South Park” meets Winnie-the-Pooh in jail
The episode sees one of “South Park’s” characters get imprisoned in China before meeting Winnie-the-Pooh, the cartoon character that has been compared to President Xi Jinping.
Winnie-the-Pooh is currently banned in China. In the “South Park” episode, she is in jail over the close resemblance as her closest friend Piglet explains:
Some people said Pooh looked like the Chinese president, so we’re illegal in China now.
Consequently, the Chinese government has responded to the airing of the critical episode by deleting all content relating to “South Park” on internet platforms and services allowed in China.
Viacom did not bend to appease the Chinese authorities, though. Rather “South Park’s” creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, put out a statement that offered a sarcastic apology:
Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all… Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?
What did Blizzard Entertainment and the NBA do?
In the case of Blizzard Entertainment, this was after a Hong Kong player participating in the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters expressed support of the Hong Kong protestors in a post-game interview.
Consequently, Blizzard rescinded the player’s prize money as well as suspending him for 12 months. China’s tech giant Tencent owns a 4.9% stake in the parent company of the Blizzard Entertainment, Activision Blizzard.
The NBA, which counts China as one of its biggest markets, also got into a firestorm after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests over the weekend. In response, the NBA tried to appease the Chinese by distancing itself from Morey, a move that was widely condemned in the U.S.
Will the Chinese now punish Viacom?
Just like the NBA and Blizzard Entertainment, Viacom also has commercial interests in China. This includes TV operations such as MTV channel aired in Mandarin. Viacom also has various deals with Chinese companies such as Baidu to distribute music and TV content.
Late last year, Paramount Pictures, which is owned by Viacom, entered a deal with China’s Tencent Pictures to distribute “Bumblebee, a Transformers” spinoff and a sequel to “Top Gun.”
After the Darry Morey controversy, China has indicated that the NBA preseason games will not be broadcast in the country. It is unclear whether Viacom could suffer a similar fate beyond making its “South Park” show unavailable in China.