Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Apple TV and entertainment third-world countries

I live in an entertainment third-world country, Belgium. In spite of having a decent GDP per person and being in heart of Europe, national borders are keeping international entertainment out of Belgium over the Internet. Netflix, Hulu, you name it, I haven't got it. "Sorry, this service isn't available in your country yet." It is bloody annoying.

What I would be most interested in in watching TV series over the internet. Right now I have to import the DVDs, and play them on a "hacked" DVD player with regional coding removed. Or I wait about a year and pray that the DVD is released in Europe too, which isn't always the case. So when I got the news that the BBC iPlayer is finally available in Belgium for the iPad (it still is blocked on the PS3 and the PC), I jumped on it. I downloaded the BBC iPlayer app, tested it was working on the iPad, and then bought the Apple TV set top box to be able to stream the show onto my TV.

The good news is that this works. For small values of "works". Although their website said the iPad app should display subtitles, and "90%" of their shows would have subtitles, I couldn't find a single show that actually had subtitles in the "free" part of the BBC iPlayer. So now I wrote to the BBC asking them if that is working as intended, before I pay for a subscription and check whether at least the paid-for content has subtitles.

The Apple TV set top box by itself also works, but again is hobbled by me living in Belgium. The iTunes store sells TV episodes, but not in Belgium. And the number of films on offer is tiny, especially those in original version and not dubbed in French or Dutch. Home sharing doesn't work for some reason, even if I turn my firewall off. But at least I can now watch YouTube on the TV.

Using AirPlay allows me to see anything I can have on the screen of my iPad on the TV, but there are two modes: A regular mode which works well for video, and a "AirPlay Mirroring" mode, which should work for everything including games, but stutters. And besides the BBC iPlayer, I haven't found any video services that work in Belgium on the iPad: For example the BBC's competitor ITV has an iPad app just like the BBC, but it isn't available in Belgium. Netflix, Hulu, LoveFilm, none of these are available over here. I live in an entertainment third-world country.

Coincidentally, Netflix announced today that it's starting in Finland at the end of 2012.

With movies, the situation wasn't too bad before; There's several domestic services, as well as Apple & Microsoft via iTunes Store and Zune. In addition, the Nordic satellite/cable TV networks have their own PPV services. They do have hefty monthly fees, so it's still cheaper to have Blu-rays shipped from UK.
But you have great beer. Life's a compromise!
I want Netflix, too. No Netflix in Germany either ...

I watch a lot of American and British TV series and the only legal way that seems to be available is - for some of them - to buy them from iTunes or wait for a year until I can order the Blu-rays.

Some years back there was a major kerfuffle about auto companies trying to restrict cross border sales within Europe so they could set different prices in different countries. My hazy recollection is that the auto manufacturers lost and EU law affirmed that consumers had the right to buy and import goods from any country within the EU.

Why does this not apply to digital goods? It won't help you with HULU because that is US only at present but BBC iPlayer and Netflix are both available in the UK so why can't you buy them in the UK and legally import them into Belgium?

Of course you can do it already with VPNs or proxy services but the question is can you legally do it?
I've read that lots of people in other counries have been watching the BBC's olympic coverage on iplayer. Apparently you can get round the country limitation by using a VPN or something.

If that's right, then all you need is a laptop, which you plug into the TV with an HDMMI cable.
I am interested to know, how does YouTube look on the Apple TV? It looks like absolute garbage on the PS3, which I suspect was a deliberate Sony "feature."
You aren't missing much, Netflix in the UK is pitiful compared to Netflix in the US. I user hide my ass to view netflix in the US on my PC, compared to the UK Netflix, it makes me sad.

The digital distribution rights is a nightmare, and I wish the companies would come to their senses. It's this more than anything that drives people to piracy. You can only try so hard to legally obtain content before you just give up.
You kids go outside and get some fresh air and stop complaining that your jet packs don't work well enough!

Third world? Life is amazing when lack of instant video streaming makes you third world.

Here in the US we've almost colonized Mars. Looks pretty nice. Kind of dry.
Yeah, we have the dreaded geo-barrier up in force in Australia, too.

It’s a big part of why I can’t take corporate complaints about movie/TV piracy seriously.
It’s very hard to feel any kind of sympathy for someone complaining that you’re not paying them for something that they refuse to sell to you anyway.

The attitude here isn’t, “We don’t like paying for things because we’re filthy pirates.”
The attitude is, “You’re sorry, this content isn’t available in my region? Dammit. Now I have to go and get it for free.”

Who the hell is responsible for this decision? We live in the 21st century. Information can move anywhere on the planet at any time of day, but people are still insisting on trying to restrict it to conform with geographical barriers. This is not sensible. …From a customer’s perspective.

I really want to know not only why this sort of shit is still happening, but who is responsible for it, who they’re serving by doing it (contrary to popular belief, companies are not actually ‘stupid’.) If my guess is right, it’s because of pandering to the retail industry. The geo-barrier is a very real differentiator for retail, not only in terms of time and money spent moving things around, but also wages and taxes in selling them.

And while digital is eliminating the need for retail stocking in many places, it is still a significant chunk of the market. This means that if retailers tell Publishers, “Your digital pricing/availability is driving us out of business, stop it or we’ll stop stocking your products,” Publishers will definitely notice the absence of retail sales on their balance sheets.

Fun fact: This conversation HAS happened between publishers and retailers.
It’s the reason most video games cost the same for both retail and digital, despite the production/distribution costs being a FRACTION for digital. Australians pay an average of around $90-110 for retail games that cost $60 in the US. Part of that’s over-pricing, part of it’s the higher cost of shipping and Australian retail wages.

So, why do the digital versions of games sold to Australians ALSO cost $90-110 for games which are sold for $60 digital, in the US? Is there really a $40-50 tax applied for coming from a different IP address? Does 200ms difference cost that much? The servers are still storing the same product in the same place, hiring the same people to handle the traffic and maintain the database. Wages, shipping and taxes aren’t a factor. No. It’s a deal with retailers. A ‘no-competition’ clause. That’s gouging us for almost double the price.

And this with digital sales ALREADY being a shit-tonne more profitable than retail, to the publisher. Every time an Australian buys a game digitally, it’s the equivalent of half a dozen US sales.

Off-topic: hey Tobold did you begin talking about D&D to change the age group of your hits? If so, clever :)
Off-topic: hey Tobold did you begin talking about D&D to change the age group of your hits? If so, clever :)

I began talking about D&D because my own age group is approaching 50. As a strategy to getting more hits it wouldn't be clever at all, I'm down to about half the number of daily visitors from peak. But then, the average quality of the visitors and their comments has gone up, so maybe there *is* an age effect.
If I were you, I would seriously consider subscribing to a proxy service. Using one does incur a modest speed / latency penalty, but I find it's not enough to cause a problem and you can always turn it off for services that don't need it.

VPN, VPN, VPN - nothing more to say. I won't go in details but there is pretty nice summing of different providers on torrentfreak and as a bonus you stick it to BREIN. Everybody wins. Or if you are real hardcore - just rent for the time you need amazon EC2 in their north carolina and use it as a socks proxy when you need us content.
Glad I'm paying my UK BBC TV license so that everyone in Europe can watch it for free.
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