Netflix refuses to carry Russian state TV channels

The service is defying a local law in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

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Netflix logo displayed on a phone screen and a laptop keyboard are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on January 7, 2022. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Netflix isn't bowing to Russian pressure to carry state-owned TV channels. The streaming service confirmed to Variety that it wouldn't carry the 20 free state channels required under a Russian law, including Channel One, NTV and Spa. The company has "no plans" to offer the programming in light of the "current situation," a spokesperson said — that is, it's not about to support Russian state media while the country invades Ukraine.

The law, known in the country as the Vitrina TV law, requires audiovisual services with more than 100,000 subscribers to carry the channels. National regulator Roskomnadzor labeled Netflix as one of those services in December. The measure has yet to be enforced, but there have been concerns Netflix would soon have to comply.

We've asked Netflix what it might do if the law takes effect. It might not be afraid to withdraw from Russia, however. Netflix only localized its service roughly a year ago, and it doesn't have employees in the country. It only started work on its first Russian original (an adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina) in May 2021, and a source for The Wall Street Journal claims Netflix has fewer than 1 million Russian subscribers. This may be more of a symbolic move than a major sacrifice.

Nonetheless, it adds to a growing technology industry backlash to Russian state media. Companies like Meta, Microsoft and Google have heavily restricted Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik due to a European Union ban and general policies against disinformation. Western tech firms aren't willing to spread Russia's official message after the invasion of Ukraine, and they're increasingly unafraid of retaliation from Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration.

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