Tuesday, March 31, 2015
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.