Last month we examined the issue of Internet providers in New Zealand being warned by the country’s broadcasters to take action against subscribers who use virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around geographical licensing restrictions. With these services, viewers around the country can access and view website content that might otherwise be restricted to other nations or regions.
Although this can sound harmless enough on the surface, when it comes to valuable content like movies, television, and music, there’s every chance it could mean the difference between business and bankruptcy for legitimate Internet providers in New Zealand.
Once you delve deeper it becomes clear just how intentional this practice is at a business level, not one driven by individual users. Several non-facilities based telecommunications companies – i.e. those with no central offices to pay for or networks to maintain – from New Zealand are engaged in the resale of broadband connections to residential subscribers. On its own this is of course a legitimate business model, much in the same way that non-network mobile providers in the U.S. make use of the main carrier networks to repackage and sell cellular services.
It’s the next step that has the major telecoms providers and rights holders up in arms, and with good reason. As this article on Tech Policy Daily explains, the resellers are attempting to gain market share by bundling a DNS geo-block defeating mechanism into their broadband services. Essentially, they’re saying to customers that they can provide them with a way around those pesky viewing barriers, or “legal regional licensing agreements” to those of us who have some degree of respect for creative rights and control of content.
Where this particular article departs from fact is in suggesting that there is any argument that these non-facilities based resellers are promoting. One look at the marketing literature from these companies, or even the comments from those in charge, shows exactly where their intentions lie.
Take Slingshot, for example, who make no bones about their “Global Mode” sales pitch:
This marketing push is enough to assure customers that they will gain access to overseas content services such as Netflix simply by signing up with services like Slingshot.
What’s more, the offering is pitched in such a way that it makes it sound like this level of access is not only legitimate, but something they should expect from all providers. When those who have invested in networks, offices, and content licensing agreements specific to their country fail to offer such a global service, it perversely reflects badly on the legitimate provider, rather than the likes of Slingshot who are skirting the rules and riding on the infrastructure of other businesses.
The bottom line is that established and respected service providers spend more than US $300 million every year for rights to the content they bring to New Zealand. Add this to the cost of providing a variety of traditional and Internet-based services to customers, with all the infrastructure and capital costs that brings, and it’s a significant investment in bringing that content to the country in the many ways viewers and listeners want to consume it.
While there may be some lag between release windows, the fact is that legitimate services are constantly evolving to meet customer demand and the licensing agreements in place ensure that creators are rewarded for each new market in which their work succeeds. This is the basis for continued revenue to the most in-demand creative talent, wherever it is in the world, and a keystone incentive to keep production flowing. Free riders, in this case the businesses who trade on the back of other providers’ networks and promote unlicensed content as a competitive advantage, only detract from that carefully constructed ecosystem.
An important point to note is that this is a battle against unfair business practices, not taking legal action against individual consumers who pursue their own viewing practices. John Fellet, CEO of Sky New Zealand, confirms this point, explaining that “this is a business-to-business issue; it’s about creating a fair playing field.”
When resellers are able to contribute little but gain a lot in terms of market share, it reduces the incentive for those providers with a major capital investment in the country, like Sky New Zealand and Telecom New Zealand, to continue bringing licensed programming from overseas and, more crucially, investing in home-grown creative talent. In that scenario the large American services like Netflix have an easier time dominating, even if they their revenue streams are diluted by geo-dodging, as they cut by far the biggest slice of the global pie.
In the long term this inhibits innovation and limits production diversity, which is exactly what customers want, and how free-riding resellers play on their trust to promote access to content that hasn’t been paid for.