Mobile phone makers Xiaomi recently branched out into the world of entertainment, announcing a set-top box that looked ready for an interesting run at the Chinese market until regulatory bureau SARFT got involved and shut things down because the gadget violated several regulations about streaming video content. Now, according to an article in Yicai, the set-top box may be on its way back, minus the offending content and with a possible rebranding of sorts.
Yicai’s article is based almost entirely on information from one or more anonymous sources at Xiaomi, which means this entire story should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, supposedly Xiaomi has cut access to all offending content from the device — any content that Xiaomi itself did not have the rights to stream — and will have the device back on the market soon. If true, that would also imply that Xiaomi has partnered with one of the seven media organizations SARFT requires companies making set-top boxes to partner with. That could mean the set-top box is also coming back with some new content courtesy of that new partner, but in all likelihood the device has lost a lot of its most desirable content: popular TV dramas that viewers demand by Xiaomi hasn’t purchased the rights to.
The Yicai acticle also speculates that the device may be repositioned somewhat as a mobile accessory to the Xiaomi phone, rather than as a standalone set-top box. Although this is not an entirely uncommon tactic for avoiding regulation — think eedoo’s iSec game console that was going to be branded a “home entertainment device” to circumvent the console ban — it’s not likely Xiaomi is trying to throw regulators of the trail here; rather, such a move would likely be aimed at shifting consumer expectations and lowering the hype surrounding the device.
Since Yicai is already speculating, though, let me throw in some speculation of my own: Xiaomi could also consider launching the set-top box outside the Chinese mainland. I’m no legal expert, but I suspect the regulatory environment would be a bit more relaxed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and perhaps even Singapore — all markets where some consumers might be interested in a device that streams the latest and greatest in Chinese television. We knew Xiaomi has been toying with the idea of launching its smartphone handset in Taiwan, and a company like this does seem destined to make moves internationally sometime, so why not now? I certainly don’t expect Xiaomi will concede its Xiaomi TV dreams in China, but it may find a more receptive regulatory audience for selling its original version of the device overseas.
[Yicai via Sina Tech]