Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
 
Global Netflix

A reader alerted me to a story about Netflix wanting to make Netflix global, by letting everybody access all Netflix content everywhere, with no geo-blocking or regional restrictions. Unfortunately that turned out to be not a real announcement, but an overly enthusiastic interpretation of a line taken out of context in an interview done when Netflix launched in Australia. The CEO of Netflix is basically saying that he isn't worried about VPN use of his service (as people pay for that), and that if one day Netflix goes global, the VPN issue would go away. That isn't the same as announcing a plan for a concrete Netflix Global service.

While the EU revealed a Digital Single Market Strategy without geo-blocking, that also is more a statement of intent, and not an announcement of anything happening anytime soon. Many European governments, especially the French, are worried about cultural imperialism, and the effect on global film and TV industries if everybody can freely watch American TV and films.

What Netflix is trying to do is telling their customers that it is okay to use VPN, while not being explicit enough about it to get them into legal trouble with the copyright holders. The people who sold the US rights to some TV series to Netflix would much prefer Netflix having to pay far more for global rights, while Netflix would like to gain more oversees customers with the possibility to watch that TV series via VPN without Netflix having to pay for it. Earlier this year The Guardian revealed that Netflix has 30 million customers in countries where Netflix isn't even available, so all of these *must* use VPN to access Netflix.

While legally in a grey zone, this strategy gives Netflix a competitive advantage. Other services are far more restrictive and require an US address and credit card before a customer can watch their TV on demand. That is a lot harder to get around, and it is safe to say that there aren't 30 million people doing it.

As an European living in Belgium, the most annoying TV on demand policy to me is that of Amazon. You can watch Amazon Instant Video in several European countries, like the UK, France, and Germany. But Belgium, which is smack right in the middle of those three, doesn't have access because Amazon Instant Video is only available in the large countries which have a local Amazon store. Parcels with books and DVDs can cross European borders, streamed TV shows can't. And I have a hard time imagining that the rights holder gave Amazon an European license which excludes all the small countries, so I don't believe that this particular case is a rights issue.

Comments:
I see arguments for and against region blocking within the EU. My first thought is that region blocking goes contrary to EU principles of free movement of goods and people and therefore should be scrapped. On the other hand I think the removal of region blocking would wipe out a lot of smaller regional broadcasters. They will no longer be able to cheaply buy the rights to content for their local market - it will be all of Europe or nothing and only the big boys will be able to afford that.

On balance however I support the removal of region blocking even if it means the loss of some local broadcasters. I think many of these have outlived the usefulness as we move to a post TV age.
 
So where is the European competitor? It is easy to complain about American companies not fulfilling your needs across the ocean in Belgium, but you then have to ask why no local competitor has stepped up.
 
I agree, the whole situation is hand-on retarded.

Many European governments, especially the French, are worried about cultural imperialism, and the effect on global film and TV industries if everybody can freely watch American TV and films

Many European governments seem to be lining under a rock, since almost everyone I know freely watches American TV and films... by pirating them.
 
@Wilhelm region blocking is one of the main reasons why there is no European version of Netflix or Amazon streaming. In order to get access to the entire European market you need to hammer out separate licensing deals in over twenty different countries. There some specialised local services but they were never able to get the critical mass to compete with the US giants and in fact one of the largest European streaming services (Lovefilm) was actually bought by Amazon a few years back.
 
@mbp - But Tobold specifically states that HE does not believe region blocking is the issue, that Amazon has a magic pan-EU license of some sort. Is it or isn't is a region blocking issue? I assume that it is, but the post says that it is not.

And LoveFilm seems to argue in favor of locals being able to get things done. Amazon bought them because they had already setup the regional licensing deals in Germany and the UK. So perhaps somebody needs to start up a firm in Belgium to do the same, then Amazon can buy them so Tobold can get his streaming service.
 
@Wilhelm - I get your point now and I suspect you are right - I doubt that Amazon has magic EU wide licenses. With smaller countries like Belgium (and Ireland where I live) it just isn't worth their while negotiating for licenses. Sometimes in Ireland we get added on to the UK deal and sometimes not.
 
@Wilhelm - I get your point now and I suspect you are right - I doubt that Amazon has magic EU wide licenses. With smaller countries like Belgium (and Ireland where I live) it just isn't worth their while negotiating for licenses. Sometimes in Ireland we get added on to the UK deal and sometimes not.
 
I agree that content made in Europe might have very detailed licenses country by country. But I have a hard time imagining American TV shows being licensed like that. If somebody from CBS is negotiating a license for CSI for Europe with Netflix, is he going to specify that it is for England, France, and Germany only, with a specific exclusion of Belgium? Does he even know where Belgium is?
 
"Do they even know where Belgium is?" They certainly know about the different languages and that provides an automatic segmentation of the market for the bigger countries. I don't think they spend much time thinking about the smaller countries. It then seems to be a matter of chance as to whether the smaller countries who happen to speak the same languages get specifically included or excluded. In Ireland we sometimes get lumped in with the UK and we sometimes get cut out entirely. When Amazon first released Kindle here we were somewhat bizarrely attached to the US kindle store even though there was already a UK Kindle store.
 
They certainly know about the different languages and that provides an automatic segmentation of the market for the bigger countries. I don't think they spend much time thinking about the smaller countries.

What I don't get is, why do they even care for the language barrier in some countries? It costs nothing to include them (other than some fees to the state, I guess) and the audience will decide the popularity of the service. If someone cannot watch Game of Thrones (or whatever) without regional subtitles available, then obviously it is not a service intended for him.

It is not like they have to offer dub and sub options to every single language of the countries they operate in.
 
One thing that might work is to move away from geographical limitations to language limitations. That way local broadcasters can have the exclusive rights to, say, a french version, but Netflix is allowed to sell the english version wherever it wants.

Scandinavian broadcasters might not appreciate that (we all watch in english anyway, and I guess the french might be upset that everybody can watch it in english if they want.
 
I doubt these geo-locks are beneficial to consumers. I currently use a VPN to access my Amazon video from Canada as well as check out US content on Netflix. I've also seen ads on Facebook for Turboflix which seems to imply having access to all regions of Netflix but I haven't checked it out yet.
 
I would love to get hbo over here in the uk. I really want to watch the bill maher show, not just highlights on youtube. Unfortunately hbo simply won't take my money.
 
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