Tag Archives: television

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.

China Walks the Line Between Celebrity and Censorship

When it comes to controlling content, the Chinese government is more vigilant than most. A familiar frenemy to most major U.S. tech companies, it frequently clashes with the likes of Google to filter our search results and content that it finds objectionable (which doesn’t take much).

While the country undoubtedly wants the connections and revenue that come with attracting such major brands and services to its shores, the commitment to freedom of information that they bring is far less appealing.

China flag in front of aerials

Can China continue to obstruct digital airwaves? | Image Credit: Mark Tollerman

Now it appears that TV and movies will be the next content frontier on which this China censorship battle will be fought.

Through a series of convoluted red tape measures, Chinese internet service providers who plan to air imported shows will be subject to increased scrutiny and editing before popular titles like “The Big Bang Theory” and  “Breaking Bad” can hit China’s screens. For companies who could otherwise immediately serve up these headline shows to an eager domestic audience the delays are likely to grate.

The piracy angle to this story is perhaps the most frustrating, given that availability is such a crucial part of the formula for convincing viewers to use legal services. When shows aren’t available via a legitimate platform, the chances are that they can be accessed through an illegitimate one. In this case everyone except the piracy site loses, as legal services are denied a paying viewer, revenue is lost to the original creator, and even China’s government fails in its mission to censor an imported show. Many titles on piracy sites simply run in their original, unedited form, potentially cutting the government out of the loop entirely.

This comes at a time when China’s curious mix of capitalism-backed Communism has its own media giants extending their reach into Hollywood. Alibaba, for one, is coming off the back of a hugely successful IPO and a strong financial quarter, with a significant part of its plans to capture new users lying in the U.S. creative industries. On the export side, American studios are showing huge interest in further exploration of the Chinese movie-going market, where imported films are already subject to quota yet make up a little less than half of the country’s box office.

With such a rapid acceleration of its entertainment industry on both the import and export front, China’s government is going to have to balance an increasing number of spinning plates as it seeks to censor incoming content, curb piracy that circumvents its efforts, and still exploit the economic value that the creative industries present.

BBC Store Hints at a Drive to Greater Global Access

BBC world logo

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Often held up as a paragon of broadcasting virtue,  where the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) leads, other programmers tend to follow – – by way of a timely example, it just won two Emmys here in the U.S.

So the news that the public service organization will next year introduce its own version of a digital content store is sure to  have broadcasters around the world considering where their own service offerings stand, by comparison.

The idea that the next evolution of entertainment will be based on accessibility and reliability is not a new one, but the international question remains a crucial sticking point to one of its key tenets. Anyone who spends a standard amount of time online looking for content knows that running into geographic restrictions – the dreaded “not available in your country” warning – is a common barrier.

Although the first iteration of the BBC Store will serve only British audiences, a further hint at the desire to “go global” lies in the tentative steps towards bringing iPlayer, the corporation’s streaming service, to an international audience. The radio wing of iPlayer is already edging out into the wider world, while its TV offerings are facing a slower but steadily popular rise through international arms like BBC America and the World Service.

The corporation clearly wants to expand the audience for its vast archive as far and wide as possible, but to do so must avoid stepping on the toes of many other parties in individual countries, from rival broadcasters with their own content agreements to digital retailers that include some of the biggest technology brands in the world.

Although that’s no mean feat, if anyone can accomplish international access the BBC is perhaps the most well placed to do so.

As a public service (to the British public, admittedly, but nonetheless driven less purely by revenue than most) the corporation has more of a focus on serving its audience with deep, diverse content than broadcasters who rely on advertising revenue. Even with the first step of the BBC Store the service has confirmed that links to purchase content on other major digital services, such as iTunes or Amazon, will be integrated into the system.

And as the Hollywood Reporter article above explains, BBC Worldwide president Marcus Arthur confirms that this move is “as much about the archive as it is about current content.” Only six percent of BBC content is currently available to buy, meaning that this play could expand audiences for all manner of titles both at home and abroad. Even if an early work-around is to link users outside of the UK to services in their own country that do host the desired content, it’s still a small step towards greater international access, and one that major digital content providers would surely embrace as a new source of traffic and custom.

Eventually it seems likely that intellectual property restrictions based on geographic location and release exclusivity will have to recede.

Audiences around the world are increasingly connected and aware of what their peers in other places are watching, reading, and listening to,m making it all the more desirable to search them out.Whether or not the BBC ushers in a new era of access, it’s in the best interests of entertainment company and consumer alike that they find a legitimate service to pay for when they reach out beyond their own borders.