The growing demand for online courses is showing no signs of slowing down. This is particularly the case in China. But with the majority of video platforms unable to stream content to China reliably, how can eLearning businesses and Higher Education institutions reliably deliver quality playback to audiences in the region.  

Why deliver online courses to China?

With the online courses market set to grow by 20% annually, China could become one of the world’s most vibrant online education markets. Growing household spending power, an undersupply of education resources and the introduction of the two-child policy are all contributing factors. The opportunities for eLearning businesses in China are significant. According to Du Miaomiao, an iResearch analyst:

“The advancement of technology is the foundation of the growing online education industry.”

However US or European online course providers typically struggle to deliver a reliable flawless viewing experience to China. This is due to the difficulties of video hosting in China.

Most video hosting providers have a major quality gap between video streamed in China and elsewhere. Video content often does not load or buffers regularly resulting in a very poor viewing experience. This blog discusses why it’s so hard to provide high-quality playback in China, and the best ways to resolve it.

What affects video playback quality in China?

There are three core issues that affect video playback speeds in China:

1. The Great Firewall

The Great Firewall of China is part of the Chinese government’s control of the internet.  This project is known as the Golden Shield. First implemented over a decade ago, the Great Firewall is a sophisticated filtering system. Strikingly, an estimated 2 million individuals in China are employed to censor content on the internet. Regular checks on external videos sent into China results in extremely slow loading times – particularly on first viewing.

Many Western websites that enjoy a lot of traffic elsewhere, such as Facebook and Twitter, are not accessible in China. Additionally familiar video services such as YouTube and Vimeo are also completely banned in China.

2. Server Distance

Video hosting in China is extremely challenging because it requires the provider to establish a Chinese presence and acquire government licenses for content delivery. Consequently, the majority of video providers do not serve content using Chinese based servers. Instead the video will most often be streamed from the US.

The further away the viewer is from the server, the more intermediary points the video has to go through. This results in longer response times. The overall experience with a data-hungry format like video will be very poor for Chinese viewers.

3. Slow Broadband Speeds

China ranks 141st in the world for broadband speeds. With the average speed being 2.4 M/bps, Chinese internet users are on a service roughly ten times slower than the average North American or European network. To put that into context, those speeds are nearly equivalent to UK broadband speeds in 2005! Video delivery demands a lot more data, so it will be the first to suffer from a slow connection.

Content Rules & Restrictions

As mentioned earlier, the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube are banned in China. This is because they cannot guarantee that certain types of content – political, religious, military, economic, cultural, moral – will not be present on their networks.

The Chinese authorities famously banned the release of Christopher Robin, a film adaptation of AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh story. This happened after the popular character became a lighthearted way for people across China to mock their president Xi Jinping.

Last year, China introduced tighter restrictions to curtail what the country’s 750 million internet users can and cannot do online:

So….how can you deliver video content to China?

If you’re a business that is looking to grow your audience in China, you may be put off by the Chinese government’s stranglehold on internet freedom. However, China is the second largest economy in the world and the adoption of video is exploding – there are too many business opportunities to ignore.

There are two options for beating the Great Firewall and streaming video content in China reliably:

Option 1: Direct Connection to a China CDN

To deliver video content into Mainland China, a specialist content delivery network with infrastructure in china is necessary. So one option for getting your videos viewed beyond the Great Firewall is to manually connect to a China CDN that has ‘Points of Presence’ (POPs) in Mainland China. This means content is retained inside China, reducing problems with censorship and distance delivery time.

Some CDN providers try to reach China from Hong Kong. But Hong Kong’s network is separate from the rest of the Mainland and outside the Great Firewall so performance will be 50% slower. A CDN provider that has its infrastructure on the Mainland will typically have existing relationships with Chinese agencies and authorities, as well as in depth knowledge of the country’s unique rules and regulations.

Businesses choosing this route will need to acquire an ICP license. This is an extremely important step as getting the registration right is crucial. Get it wrong and you run the risk of your website being blacklisted, with no way to appeal.

While the above is achievable, be aware that the process of establishing a relationship with a China CDN and acquiring an ICP license is a very long and challenging one. Prepare for a lot of back and forth with the Chinese authorities. You will also need to set up a local legal entity or representation by counsel and make a few costly trips to China as signage must be done in person.

From a technology perspective, connecting directly to a China CDN requires substantial in-house video hosting expertise as the CDN provider will not offer video analytics or a HTML5 player – you will need to custom build these.

Option 2: Video Platform Provider

Going with a video platform provider is the easier, more cost effective solution to delivering video content into China.

However not all video platforms are equal when it comes to in-China playback. For example, Vimeo and Wistia are blocked in China, while others try to reach China from Hong Kong, but as we’ve already discussed, Hong Kong’s network is completely separate from the rest of the Mainland so the performance will be slower. Don’t assume the video strategy that works with the rest of the world also works within China!

So how do you certify that a video hosting platform vendor can deliver video playback reliably into China?

First step: make sure the vendor is licensed to deliver content in China and has the necessary infrastructure on the Mainland. The number of POPs the vendor has in Mainland China and where they are located is also important to know.  You’ll want to know if they are dispersed throughout the country or only concentrated in large areas as this will influence your video strategy.

Something else to consider is the difference in cost of China bandwidth. Bandwidth is as much as 50 times more expensive than in Western countries, and again not all video platform providers are equal in how much they charge for in-China playback.  With economies of scale, some vendors are able to make it an affordable option and offer a cost effective package.

In summary below is a checklist of requirements a video hosting provider delivering into China should meet:

  • Servers should be located inside Mainland China, not Hong Kong or other territories
  • Multiple servers should cover the region
  • Government ICP license acquired
  • Content controls to ensure reliability

How can vzaar help?

vzaar has provided In-China video hosting service for more than three years. During this time, we’ve developed a cost-effective way to host video content in China. Future Learn (owned by The Open University) and Gresham College have large user bases in China and use vzaar to deliver their educational content to the country.

Uniquely, we are able to offer industry-leading prices for in-China playback because of our economies of scale. This makes it an affordable option for businesses and educational institutions. Users of vzaar can deliver the same high quality viewing experience to their Chinese viewers as they do to their audiences in other parts of the world. With access to over 60,000 servers across China, we can deliver high-quality video content even to those students away from the populous Eastern seaboard.

Want to sign up for our free trial (no credit card required)? Click the button below and start delivering your video content to China today!


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