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Vietnam’s Creative Industries: Foreign Investor Cheat Sheet 2024

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Vietnam’s creative industries are not particularly well developed. Whereas creative industries make up about 5 to 10 percent of global GDP, in Vietnam that figure is only estimated to be about 3 percent. This is for a number of reasons, many of which foreign creatives and investors in creative industries should be aware of when doing business in Vietnam. It’s in this context, that this cheat sheet runs through a brief overview of how the industry operates.

Censorship in Vietnam

Censorship in Vietnam is an issue for creative industries. The Ministry of Communications is broadly responsible for what is and is not permitted to be disseminated in Vietnam, however, there is some overlap with the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. When it comes to live events, local People’s Committees can be involved too.

Live performance in Vietnam

Live performances need to be approved by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Event organisers need to apply to the ministry and submit scripts for plays or comedy performances and the like, or set lists for musical acts and lyrics. All of this needs to be submitted alongside a Vietnamese translation. This can be problematic in that language and lyrics in particular can be very nuanced and open to interpretation. Nevertheless, this is a requirement.

Once the ministry approves, the event organisers will need approval from the local People’s Committee too. This can be arbitrary and will largely be subjective. Relationships with key decision makers in local government can be very helpful.

All of that said, there are a number of small live music venues that accommodate very small crowds, particularly scattered around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, that are too small to show up on the radar of the authorities yet can still put on a good live music event.

Live performances of note last year included South Korean K-pop superstars BlackPink in Hanoi and Jack Black of White Stripes fame in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Making films in Vietnam

The most recent iteration of the Law on Cinematography was approved in 2022 and governs film production in Vietnam. In short, this requires film producers to:

  • Submit a written request for a licence to film, including:
  • Putting in writing that they will not violate Article 9 of the law which more or less prohibits making Vietnam look bad; and 
  • Providing a broad script summary of the whole film as well as detailed script summaries of the parts that use Vietnam as a backdrop.

This then needs to be submitted to the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.

Films of note that were made in Vietnam include King Kong which was filmed in Ninh Binh a few clicks south of Hanoi. Parts of the production are still there and most tours around the area’s world heritage-listed Trang An river system will make a stop at what remains of the set. 

That said, the TV series The Sympathizer, based on the book of the same name, which is set in Vietnam was filmed in Thailand when producers were unable to persuade the Vietnamese authorities to grant permission to film in Vietnam.

Video games in Vietnam

Video games in Vietnam are regulated by the Ministry of Information and Communications by a collection of decrees and laws. To distribute video games in Vietnam a company needs to establish a local office. If a foreign firm establishes a company in Vietnam to produce or disseminate video games it must be a joint venture and the foreign firm can only own 49 percent.

These regulations essentially restrict the cross-border provision of video game services. In practice, however, this still goes on and is only arbitrarily raised as an issue. Of note, earlier this year the gaming platform Steam was blocked reportedly for failing to meet the above requirements, but many other gaming platforms are still available.

That said, as far as making video games in Vietnam goes, there are a lot of qualified coders around and Vietnam has had some success producing very popular video games. The viral sensation, Flappy Birds, for example, was made in Vietnam. During COVID a game developer in Ho Chi Minh City also put out a game called Axie Infinity that at its peak was valued at over US$1 billion.

See also: Video Games in Vietnam: Cheat Sheet 2024

Advertising in Vietnam

The Law on Advertising is at the heart of Vietnam’s advertising regulations. This law outlines the key requirements, obligations and responsibilities of foreign advertising agencies. 

Furthermore, Decree 70, issued in 2021 adds to the existing regulations a number of regulations specific to digital advertising and the cross border provision of digital advertising. 

In a nutshell, foreign firms working in advertising need to appoint a contact person for the Government of Vietnam to utilise when advertisements fall afoul of Vietnam’s advertising regulations. These regulations can get very specific. For example, when there is text in a language other than Vietnamese in an advertisement it cannot be more than two-thirds the size of the Vietnamese translation.

That said, in reality, advertising firms are generally only pulled up for content that offends the censors or when advertisements appear on content that the censors deem offensive.

Quite a few fines have been issued in the last couple of years with respect to the latter point. The MIC does maintain a blacklist and a whitelist of places where advertisements can and cannot, respectively, be shown which is supposed to make it easier for advertisers to avoid breaking the rules, however, in reality, both lists are very short and severely limiting.

International advertising agency Group M was fined US$1,442, back in November, for ads for Procter & Gamble and Unilever that it ran on YouTube videos that the MIC didn’t approve of

Publishing in Vietnam

Publishing in Vietnam is controlled by the government. This is a carry-over from when Vietnam was much more closed-off and before the internet became so widely available. That said, it is still an area where the government exerts its control.

The aforementioned The Sympathiser, for example, has not been made available in Vietnam.

That said, the internet gives Vietnamese audiences broad access to content from all over the world. Whereas the spread of physical books might be controlled, content published online tends to get around the censors much more easily.

Regulations for artists in Vietnam

It’s also worth noting that Vietnam has a Code of Conduct for artists. Devised by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism it sheds some light on to how art is perceived by the authorities in Vietnam and what its role is in society. 

Specifically, artist works should “Encourage, promote and spread good cultural values ​​in the spirit of ‘replicate the beautiful, eliminate the bad’ using positivity to repel negativity,” according to the decision.

This can be problematic for local artists and storytelling broadly. 

For example, a Vietnamese film headed for Cannes was denied a distribution licence by Vietnam’s Ministry of Communications on the grounds that it shows ‘a gloomy, deadlocked, and negative view’ of Vietnam earlier this year.

This goes against the Western conventions of what makes good art and may help to explain why local creative industries trail many other parts of the world

What’s next?

Vietnam’s consumer class is growing rapidly and consumption of cultural goods is growing rapidly along with it. Though censorship can be challenging for all areas of Vietnam’s creative industries, they do still generate billions of dollars presenting broad opportunities for foreign firms operating in the sector.

That said, this cheat sheet only covers the broad strokes. Depending on the area of Vietnam’s creative industries, the rules, regulations, and realities can become incredibly nuanced. They are also prone to change quickly and in this respect firms interested in Vietnam’s creative industries can best keep up to date with said changes by subscribing to the-shiv.

Last updated

June 4 2024: Added section: Regulations for artists

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