Tag Archives: Netflix

Australia Sees a Shift Towards Legal Streaming Services

Netflix has only been around in Australia for six months but it is already showing signs of steering online viewers back to licensed content. Along with home-grown peers like Presto and Stan, the company that launched down under back in March has helped to usher in a tangible drop in piracy, according to consumer group Choice.

Reliefmap of Australia

Reliefmap of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The organization focused on two main areas: Australians who identify as “regular pirates” and those who have engaged in at least one unlicensed content act – downloading or streaming – in the past year.

In Choice’s follow up to its 2014 study those numbers dropped by three and six percent respectively, showing minor but not insignificant shifts against acts of piracy, given the short time frame in question.

Extending out to several years, if these trends continue then the signs for legal streaming – and the compensation such services bring for rightsholders – are promising. 

At this early stage, there is a lot of room for legal streaming services to expand into the public consciousness. Every subscription to a legitimate service means a consumer contributing to the creative economy and less likely to take from that same pot by accessing content from unlicensed sources.

The arrival of international services like Netflix should also spur competition among native platforms, encouraging spending on exclusive content and original titles that resonate with Australian audiences.

streaming-services-logos-usa

We need look only to the North American ecosystem to see the benefits of widespread legal streaming success. It’s not just Netflix with Emmy Awards for House of Cards and critical acclaim for new series like Narcos (both of which Australians can now access in full, as an aside). Whether the investment in new productions by Hulu, the launch of a dedicated streaming service by HBO, or the Amazon investment in Top Gear presenters that CEO Jeff Bezos himself has described as “very, very, very expensive,” it is clear that not only does legal streaming support creative production, it actually drives that creativity to the next level as competing services try to outdo each other to attract more subscribers.

As we covered in our recent spotlight on Scandinavia, no single anti-piracy tactic should stand alone if we expect to see success. Each must be supplemented by a strong national stance against piracy sites, and education for the public as to how they can avoid unlicensed content and support creativity through legal channels. The final leg of that stool involves competitive and attractive streaming services, however, and the increased availability of those services in Australia seems to support that as an important element to curb piracy, even at this early stage.

How “Going Global” in New Zealand Hurts Legitimate Internet Providers

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:

Slingshot Global Mode Plan

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.

Geo-dodging Thrusts VPNs Into the Global Piracy Debate

Earlier this year we looked at the growing trend of geo-dodging, a process whereby a user in one country can use a server in another country to access content with geographical release restrictions.

The act uses virtual private network (VPN) providers to bypass the online footprint that would otherwise flag their general location and raise the access limitations requested by rights holders.

 

Up to now, geo-dodging has been a secondary concern in the fight against piracy. Now, though, we see cases in New Zealand of television companies threatening to sue VPN services, bringing the trend to the front of technology and intellectual property headlines. Four of New Zealand’s most prominent media companies, SKY, TVNZ, Lightbox and MediaWorks, have joined together to deliver warning letters to VPNs and the internet service providers (ISPs) who enable their user activity.

While geo-dodging has frustrated companies like Netflix, which is known around the world but not available in all major markets, the greater focus has been on fighting direct piracy activity, such as unlicensed file-sharing, torrents and pre-release leaks.

Users getting around geographical content restrictions fell further down the list for two reasons: 1) the technology to accomplish geo-dodging was either not widely available to, or understood by, a majority of users, and 2) often it involves a paying subscriber in one country, so at least there is a sense that content is paid for, even if it isn’t authorized.

In other cases, such as US residents accessing the BBC’s UK-based iPlayer service, the issue is further blurred by the fact that the state broadcaster does not directly charge for its platform, though British tax payers do fund the organization as a whole. At its most basic, though, viewers are accessing content that wasn’t intended for their market, wrenching control from rights holders, and therein lies the problem.

As VPN apps become more common, so geo-dodging on legitimate content platform becomes more of an issue for anyone hoping to license their content to others.

As this practice grows into the public consciousness, it comes back to the very simple concept that content creators and rights holders have the right to choose where and when that content appears. The fundamentals of the licensing system – the market place through which creators can set a value for their content and allow others to use it based on demand, or simply artistic vision –  require that restrictions are respected by broadcasters, intermediaries, and viewers alike.

Though broadcasters and legitimate intermediaries tend to respect those restrictions and, indeed, pay a premium when they want to remove them, piracy facilitators and viewers . VPNs will have to decide which side of the fence they’re on, and how long they can play the privacy card before the weight of intellectual property law gives them a more serious problem to deal with.

 

Fleeing Authorities, Piracy’s Latest Poster Child Bounces Around the World

You may remember Popcorn Time, the initially innocent-looking app that gained attention (then notoriety) last year when the headlines labeled it “Netflix for Pirates.”

Although that early version proved short-lived thanks to prompt action from rights holders, the site morphed into several other unreliable incarnations in the months that followed, sparking concerns about malicious code and a bizarre turf war between different groups of developers.

After a winter break from the media spotlight, aside from a frank admission from Netflix itself that such piracy sites provide significant competition to its paid service,  Popcorn Time appears to be resurfacing in a traditional manner: finding new countries from which to operate, at least until the nearest available authorities catch up with its operators.

Currently that means Europe, specifically Sweden, which is something of an odd choice given the recent spate of raids on piracy server locations in that country. It’s also strange as the service has been removed on another occasion by EURid, the European Registry of Internet Domain Names, which should really send Popcorn Time’s operators running for further flung lands than Scandinavia.

If it followed the path of The Pirate Bay, for example, there would be stops at domain registrars in exotic locations like the Caribbean and South America. That course eventually led to the site being shut down anyway and its owners serving jail time, so perhaps nowhere in the world can truly be labeled a “safe harbor.” That, at least, is something for which rights holders can be grateful.

Popcorn Time Google results

For anyone who can recall the name of the service, Google makes it easy to put pirates back in business.

As usual, Google has a role to play in curbing this piracy. Unfortunately, and also as usual, it seems that the search giant will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to act against a site that flagrantly infringes the copyright of creators big and small.

As the search results to the right show, Google currently puts Popcorn Time at the very top of its search results, helping curious viewers to hurdle one of the barriers to entry. With the more common dot com domain removed, would-be pirates at least have to find a working address for the site before they can begin ripping off titles. Google solves that problem all too easily, and rumors that the app will also be available for download through the official Google Play store will only make the company look worse.

Somewhat amusingly, in that same Wired interview with the anonymous operator of Popcorn Time’s latest incarnation, a different parallel is drawn with the world’s largest search engine. The source, identified only by the name of the site’s mascot, makes the direct comparison between Google and his own service, saying:

“We’re like Google, scraping for new content all over the internet.”

–‘Pochoclin’ of Popcorn Time

While the analogy has some technical basis, it would be harsh to lump Google into the same piracy bag as Popcorn Time, which positions itself to directly undercut legitimate streaming services. Google certainly has its fair share of work – and then some – to do in the fight against piracy, but its business is search advertising, not actively searching for and promoting pirated content.

But even with that indirect distinction, the fact that Google so frequently presents piracy sites, and by doing so legitimizes them, when users perform a search is enough to put the company on the wrong side of the fight. Between YouTube, Android, and its eponymous search engine, it could be argued that Google does as much to facilitate piracy as it does to curb it.

However much running around the world authorities have to do to pursue and prohibit the likes of Popcorn Time, it’s important to remember we also have some major intellectual property battles to fight right here on home soil.

 

House of Cards Piracy Shows Why Legal Global Streaming Works

It’s a universal truth that where demand goes unsatisfied, piracy quickly follows. For the creative industries, there are high hopes that an equally predictable trend will unfold: where legal streaming services roll out, piracy quickly tails off.

It’s been a theme that characterized much of February for us, from the news that Norway, where streaming music services dominate, has seen a dramatic reduction in piracy, to the post-Oscars analysis of where Academy Award winning titles are available and how piracy spikes if they’re not.

House of Cards piracy is the latest example to underline this phenomenon, as season 3 of the Netflix original series prompted a surge in social media and viewing activity in markets where the platform is active, and soaring piracy levels in countries where it isn’t.

 

Season 3 was only released last Friday, yet unlicensed viewing in countries around the world already numbers in the six figures, with China heading the illegal access list at more then 60,000 downloads. That doesn’t begin to factor in a number of other methods of finding the program without paying for the privilege, as technology like VPN access helps viewers to bypass geographical restrictions and log in to the same version of Netflix made available to U.S. consumers.

Although there is also illegal access in countries where Netflix does operate successfully, not least the U.S. and United Kingdom, the general consensus is that any market will have some amount of residual piracy.

While that element needs to be tackled with more familiar education and enforcement tactics, promoting legal access channels and penalizing where pirates knowingly disregard them, the most promising new prong in fighting copyright infringement is rolling out legitimate streaming services in markets where they don’t currently operate.

In the case of House of Cards this would of course be Netflix, first and foremost, although it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which the company licenses such a popular title to another service if it can’t get into the market itself. China springs to mind in the first instance, given the censorship issues and other red tape for American companies operating in the country, but there are enough other international markets in which Netflix isn’t being compensated at all for its hit production and would surely love to bridge the gap with licensing income.

Continent of Australia from space. Australia i...

Continent of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile it’s Australia that provides the most immediate case study of how introducing a legal viewing alternative will impact piracy levels. Frequently found atop the illegal viewing figures despite its relatively small consumer base, the country saw House of Cards piracy almost on a par with China.

Here, however, Netflix seems all set to launch this month, giving consumers almost no time to wait for the popular title and everything else that the company’s expansive archives will bring.

If Australians decide that convenience (and, we would hope, copyright) trump the awkward access of covert connections and malware-plagued piracy sites, then piracy levels should decline.  The experiment is ongoing, but the early results are promising that legitimate digital channels can connect viewers around the world to content they love, without having to resort to illicit and unreliable access points to get it.

 

Netflix VPN Errors Raise Divisive Issue of “Geo-Dodging”

Local access, global networkIf you subscribe to Netflix, you’re probably used to the monthly search for new and disappearing titles, as well as digging into the depths of its vault for movies and TV shows you may have missed. It can be a somewhat frustrating search, but ultimately rewarding when you uncover a hidden gem to watch or catch a series that’s just about to expire from the archives.

While that’s a common activity within any individual domestic viewing market, imagine multiplying that search by every single country in which the service operates — that’s 40 separate nations, as of September 2014.

Even so, due to varying international release requirements that have existed for some time and extend beyond any one streaming service, that’s exactly what some users choose to do. “Geo-dodging” involves using virtual proxy networks to bypass geographical restrictions – violating the service’s user agreement in the process – and accessing content licensed only for certain markets. Although it’s not considered fair game by streaming services or the studios who fill their viewing vaults, the practice has been a possibility for anyone with a little technical knowhow (and a lot of time to search for the content they want across tens of different viewing markets).

Now, however, Netflix appears to be clamping down on these digital border jumpers.

 

In December many observers noticed a spike in VPN-related errors when accessing the service via these more private connections, prompting speculation that Netflix and its ilk have seen more pressure from studios to enforce the regional release agreements under which they license much of their content. Although Netflix has denied any specific crackdown on the question of geo-dodging viewers,

Being the base of both Netflix and Hollywood, the U.S. vaults of streaming services are of course the prime destination for viewers outside of North America. Each area has its own popular titles that are currently unavailable in another, though, and creators in each original country have a right to control how and when their work comes out around the world.

Geo-dodging through the use of VPN’s is an activity which, while some distance down from illegal file sharing and torrent streaming on the anti-piracy laundry list,  remains a persistent thorn in the side of studios. Their business model and marketing campaigns are based upon carefully crafted release schedules designed to maximize movie-goers and minimize piracy.

Although these can sometimes be turned into lemonade, as with the enforced online release of The Interview over the holidays, all too often unexpected changes can leave studios with a lemon. The pre-release piracy of Expendables 3 last year showed just how much this kind of thing can bite at the box office, and though to a lesser extent, online sales of a title can just as easily be cannibalized in one market by viewers dipping into another area to stream before it is officially licensed.

The legal options for viewers remain extensive and impressive. Throw in a little patience (or a little extra investment to see a theater release, as creators often intended) and we begin to move toward a global release system that balances the needs of both creator and consumer, without grating too much on either party.

Australia’s Foxtel Takes Aim at Pirates

Foxtel Logo

The success of Australian media company Foxtel should not be used as an excuse for piracy, according to its CEO Richard Freudenstein. Speaking at Sydney’s Copyright Forum, Freudenstein contended that the livelihood of professionals in the entertainment industry was being threatened by piracy. “I think there is a real risk that people see this as all about big companies. It’s about writers, it’s about directors it’s about people selling popcorn in movie theatres,” Freudenstein said.

Interestingly, Google’s Australian head of public policy Ishtar Vij responded that the Australian government’s move to crack down on pirates could stifle creativity and place an undue burden on creative professionals. She added, “”Content owners need to be able to control their content online but it can’t be done in a way that compromises the broader ecosystem.” That’s a more assertive position than Google has taken at home in the U.S. Freudenstein responded  to Google, saying, “We’ll have a lot more cats on skateboards and a lot less Game of Thrones,” he said.

The video wars in Australia are set to enter a new stage as Netflix readies itself to enter the market. Just last month Foxtel lowered the price of its basic cable package by half to about A$25. Freudenstein said it was a response to affordability issues. Others contend it was b brushback directed against Netflix. Stay tuned. Things are heating up Down Under.