North Korea Rolls Out Its Own Authoritarian-Style Netflix

North Korea has a new video streaming service for viewers to surf TV channels or re-watch documentaries about the country's leaders.


When Netflix announced in early January that it had extended its television and movie streaming service to every corner of the globe, four places remained conspicuously left out: China, Crimea, Syria, and North Korea.

Of that list, only China has the option of actually getting Netflix; the other three are strictly off-limits because of U.S. sanctions that sharply restrict economic transactions with them.  

This week, however, North Korea debuted its own, homegrown version of Netflix.

The service, named Manbang, meaning “everywhere” in Korean, offers viewers a nearly-Netflixian universe of entertainment options: They can choose from carefully-orchestrated documentaries about the country’s “dear” leaders, or they can watch state-approved television programming.

North Korean television shows typically depict moral lessons meant to reinforce faith in the government. When characters experience failure or suffering, for example, a common trope is for them to suddenly regain morale by remembering their endless devotion to the party. Unsurprisingly, those who can afford it prefer watching banned South Korean dramas.

“If a viewer wants to watch, for instance, an animal movie and sends a request to the equipment, it will show the relevant video to the viewer…this is two-way communications,” explained Kim Jong Min, an information apparatchik, in an appearance on state television, according to NK News, a U.S.-based outlet that monitors North Korean media.  

State media touted the easiness of setting up “Manbang,” describing it as a boon to citizens and children.

The announcement of the new video streaming service coincided with North Korea’s first-ever beer festival, in a possible attempt to soften its image and provide its citizens with amenities that are commonly available elsewhere.

Video footage of the beer festival showed North Koreans enjoying glass jugs of homemade brew and thanking the leadership “for being able to drink to our hearts’ content.” Perhaps now they can also raise their glasses while they watch their home-brewed programming.

Image credit: Korean Central Television

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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