China's iQiyi to offer free movies, TV over holiday after Beijing's urging

·2 min read
iQiyi Inc., logo is displayed on screen during company's IPO at Nasdaq Market Site in New York

BEIJING (Reuters) - iQiyi, China's answer to Netflix, will offer free movies and television shows in some areas over the Lunar New Year holiday, after Beijing urged platforms to drop their paywalls with many people stuck at home to help combat the pandemic.

Millions of Chinese normally criss-cross the country to return to their hometowns during the nation's biggest holiday, but authorities have rolled out stringent anti-virus measures in recent weeks after hundreds of new coronavirus cases were reported.

The government has advised people to stay in place, fearing that mass movements could further spread the virus.

iQiyi, whose parent is search engine giant Baidu said it would make a "free-of-charge viewing" category available in Beijing and the nearby province of Hebei that will contain content usually restricted to members.

The platform did not specify dates for the service. The seven-day holiday begins on Feb. 11 this year.

The move came shortly after China's National Development and Reform Commission said online video service providers should increase their offerings of free movies and other content "to create good atmosphere for the holiday and to better satisfy the spiritual and cultural demand of the masses who will not return home".

iQiyi rival Youku, which is owned by Alibaba Group, said it was "making preparations" for the holiday period without elaborating. Tencent Video did not respond to a request for comment.

China railway authorities and airlines are offering full refunds to people if they want to cancel trips booked between Jan. 28 and Mar. 8, during the traditional high travel season.

The Ministry of Transport expects passenger trips in China over the period to drop by more than 40% this year versus 2019.

(Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh; Additional Reporting by Pei Li; editing by Richard Pullin)