However, the management of web drama both in terms of content and quality is a matter of concern, notably as the time for submission of the Draft Law on Cinema (amended) to the National Assembly is approaching.

There are a variety of apps for watching moves online such as Netflix, Apple TV+, Prime Video, Viki, Galaxy Play, FPT Play, Zing TV and MyTVNet. It can be said that the demand for web drama is taking up the majority of internet traffic in households, making the market more vibrant. According to data from the Ministry of Information and Communications, as of November 2020, Vietnam had 35 businesses operating in the field of providing online streaming services with around 14 million subscribers and total revenue of up to VND9 trillion.

The leading platform is Netflix with up to 200 million users worldwide, including around 3.5 million in Vietnam. Other apps in the country such as FPT Play and Galaxy Play have continuously seen growth, showing the strong development trend of screening movies via the Internet. With just a phone or a computer connected to the network, consumers can access entertainment products, even watching the latest movies, regardless of distance.

However, from the perspective of cultural management, the proliferation of web drama apps has caused a lot of trouble, especially as a number of provisions in related laws have gradually become outdated and no longer suitable. In addition to high-quality movies, a lot of movies with unhealthy content, images of violence, objectionable behaviours and distortions about Vietnam are featuring. They have adversely affected the perception and psychology of viewers, especially young people. The ultimate problem is how to censor web dramas to leave out movies with unhealthy content and those lacking a healthy aesthetic and harming viewers?

Facing the increasing trend of activities to satisfy entertainment needs by watching movies via online platforms, many countries have adjusted their censorship regulations to match reality. In the Republic of Korea, since 2012, films or music videos and game shows have been subject to strict censorship before they are posted on the internet. Both domestic and foreign movies must be censored and licensed by management agencies. Even websites or apps for web drama must be also licensed for operation by the government. Similarly in China, movies that want to be posted via the internet must be licensed by the state agency through the Netcast Service Association – a specialised government agency empowered to censor and penalise websites with signs of violation.

Turkey has been also tough on Netflix, the world’s most-used online movie streaming platform, blocking access to movies that the country considers inappropriate. However, in Vietnam, there are currently no specific regulations on censorship of movies screened online. The Law on Cinematography 2006 (amended and supplemented in 2009) only mentions exploitation and dissemination of movies via the internet in a limited manner. Meanwhile, technology is changing daily, so the censorship of movies in general and web drama in particular must change.

The confusion of management agencies, and the fragmented and petty handling of violations have revealed many inadequacies. Many individuals and organisations have taken advantage of this to continuously produce and publish non-artistic products with objectionable content that is incompatible with customs, causing violations of ethical principles and even of law. Some movies still leave segments that were previously cut out by the censorship boards. In addition, very few online movies have been labelled with their appropriate age groups, leading to chaos in the online environment.

The lack of control measures for web drama has also created unfairness in the movie market itself. Web dramas are not subject to any controls, while movies screened in cinemas are censored strictly by the Cinema Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and TV series controlled by televisions. Recently, several cases related to web dramas have been handled mainly thanks to the strong voice of the viewer community.

Moreover, this handling is only possible for movie screening platforms in Vietnam. The relevant agencies find it difficult to intervene in movies provided on cross-border platforms with servers in foreign countries.

Another fact is that it is very difficult to distinguish what exactly a web drama is. Although much content, screened on online platforms, are called movies, they are not appropriate considering the nature and characteristics of the genre. In the past, cinematic works were often put on the internet after being screened in cinemas. Today, many cinematographic businesses consider the internet as a distribution channel. The Galaxy Media & Entertainment Group has invested VND100 billion to produce 20 exclusive movie projects that will be only screened online via the Galaxy Play platform. Thus, businesses clearly define the movies they produce which will be screened on technology platforms, and not in cinemas. They are free to put any content into the movies without being pressured by the management agency.

Accordingly, it is crucial to quickly complete legal regulations to create a strict mechanism on the classification and censorship of web dramas. The regulations also need to be detailed and tight, without loopholes for businesses to abuse advertising The problem that needs to be solved now is how to quickly complete legal regulations to create a strict classification and censorship mechanism for films produced online. The regulations also need to be detailed and tight, without loopholes for businesses to abuse advertising, evade taxes or put objectionable content in movies.

Recently, the Cinema Department has organised seminars to collect comments on the Draft Law on Cinema (amended) to be submitted to the National Assembly for approval (expected in October 2021). Many opinions emphasise the control of web dramas because this is a new and complicated issue. Many experts have proposed additional options to Article 19 of the Draft on dissemination of web drama.

There are currently two proposed options on pre-check and post-check. Pre-check means that web dramas will be censored and licensed before being circulated like movies in cinemas. However, the disadvantage is that the number of web dramas is so high that it is difficult for the authorities to set up corresponding censorship boards. The post-check plan focuses on strengthening the responsibility of self-control of content according to the laws of the producers and units distributing the movies online.

Accordingly, the provisions of the Law need to be very strict, requiring the commitment and the responsibility of businesses trading in web drama. Either way, it is necessary to affirm that the proposal and adjustment of the strict provisions in the Law on Cinema and related regulations to manage web dramas are in line with current practice.