North Korea Netflix: New Video Service Unveiled

A North Korean version of a Netflix-like service has been unveiled in the isolated country. Known as “Manbang,” meaning “everywhere” in Korean, it is a video-on-demand internet streaming product. The new feature was unveiled by state broadcaster KCTV, according to BBC News. KCTV said the demand was high for Manbang. The reality though is that most North Koreans likely have no connectivity to the internet and therefore no access to the video service. It would only be available to the country’s elites.

There is a separate version of the internet used in North Korea without access to the rest of the world. There are only estimated to be about 5,000 websites that can be accessed through this severely restricted network. It is believed only a few thousand people may have limited online access in a population of 25 million. Special government permission is needed to go online, and anyone with a personal computer must register ownership.

The North Korea imitation of Netflix is controlled by the regime. It enables viewers to watch up to five TV channels, as well as search for state approved documentaries. The vast majority of programming selection is for viewers to watch documentaries about the greatness of their leader, Kim Jong-Un, as well as language instruction, especially English and Russian. One South Korean expert said the technology used by the North appeared to be legitimate, as reported by The Guardian.

As with Netflix users in the rest of the world, one of the biggest users of Manbang appears to be children. There is high demand for children’s programming and streaming it repeatedly, writes Variety.

A North Korean official said much of the high demand was coming from one city, Sinuiju, which is a location near the border. Due to state interference, radio and TV reception is poor for residents. Manbang may be the only viewing option for those that can afford it. The demand for the new video feature is said to be in the hundreds out of a population of hundreds of thousands.

Programming for adults and children typically depicts moral lessons that reinforce dedication to the ruling party. Failed characters in state dramas frequently find redemption when they recall their endless devotion to the state and the party.

Some North Koreans risk their lives by accessing banned broadcasts or internet access from South Korea. Punishment for such a breach often leads to jail time and hard labor.

The introduction of a North Korea Netflix service coincides with the announcement of the country’s first-time beer festival. Citizens are shown drinking homemade beer and thanking their leadership for the opportunity to do so. Some analysts see the new measures as an attempt by the North to soften its image and provide some citizens leisure options available to the rest of the world.

Known as the Hermit Kingdom, as well as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea was established in 1948. It became a communist style regime under the dictatorship of Kim Il-Sung. War broke out between the North and South in 1950. A truce was settled in 1953, and a tense status quo has since been maintained. There is a 2.5-mile wide demilitarized zone between the two countries. At various times since then, the threat of a new war has loomed. The North has been supported by China while South Korea receives military aid from the United States.

A cult-like worship was developed over Kim Il-Sung. He was referred to as the “Great Leader.” Given god-like qualities, Kim Il-Sung was propagandized as the perfect leader. His son, Kim Jong-Il inherited the country and furthered the leadership cult. The current leader is Kim Il-Sung’s grandson, Kim Jong-Un. Getting information about the people of North Korea is difficult. It is believed that the vast majority of the population are destitute and suffer from frequent famines. Despite the new North Korean Netflix-like service and beer festival, the country remains under the strict control of Kim Jong-Un.

[Photo by Dita Alangkara/AP Images]