While the video entertainment business needs to do better, Netflix is definitely going some way to filling the online movie and TV show streaming void. Nevertheless, even when consumers put their hands in their pockets for the service, elements of the industry still find cause to complain.
The issue is one of geo-location. Essentially, users of Netflix in the United States get a more content-rich service than those accessing it from elsewhere. These restrictions are easily overcome by using a VPN service to tunnel in to the U.S. from outside but that annoys content companies no end. Licensing deals are to be respected, they argue.
Just lately critics of the phenomenon have switched from using terms such as “geo-blocking”, favoring the emotive “Netflix piracy” and “Netflix theft” instead. Yesterday another heavyweight poured more fuel on the fire and pointed the finger at her own family while doing so.
Mary Ann Turcke is the new boss of BCE Inc.’s Bell Media division in Canada. In a keynote speech to the Canadian Telecom Summit yesterday, Turcke raised the issue of Netflix but surprisingly relayed a story from within her own household, triggered by a ‘Life Pro Tip’ from her own daughter.
“Mom, did you know that you can hack into U.S. Netflix and get sooo many more shows?” Turcke’s 15-year-old-daughter revealed.
But far from mom being impressed at the ingenuity of her child, mom found her actions tantamount to theft.
“She is 15 and she was stealing,” Turcke told the Toronto audience. “Suffice to say, there is no more VPNing.”
For the teenager and probably most adults, this must be a frustrating concept to grasp. After shunning the lure of The Pirate Bay and its first-run movies on tap – for free, someone in the household has done the ‘right’ thing and bought Netflix. Yet someone, somewhere, has deemed Canadians to be unworthy of the full service and when that injustice gets addressed, mom plays the ‘thief’ card.
“It takes behavioral change and it is the people — friend to friend, parent to child, coworker to coworker — that set the cultural framework for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour,” Turcke said.
“It has to become socially unacceptable to admit to another human being that you are VPNing into U.S. Netflix. Like throwing garbage out of your car window, you just don’t do it. We have to get engaged and tell people they’re stealing.”
Despite Ms. Turcke’s enthusiasm for establishing geo-busting as a crime, Canadian law professor Michael Geist previously rejected the assertion, an opinion also shared by Ottawa intellectual property lawyer Howard Knopf.
“This is another manifestation of that good old Canadian phenomenon known as cross-border shopping in a free market,” Knopf said.
“Some Canadian rights owners and licensees seem to think it’s smart to limit Canadian choice and raise Canadian prices. Maybe they are being shortsighted or greedy but that’s what they try to do.”
While Turcke sees her own child as the thief, she also lays blame at the door of Netflix for not doing more to stop so-called ‘VPN pirates’.
“Digital-rights management is one of the most sophisticated and heavily negotiated relationship aspects of our deals with Hollywood,” Turcke said.
“As an industry, the players up and down the value chain can’t allow Netflix to continue doing what they’re doing, and Netflix has a choice to stop it. This is a business model decision on Netflix’s part. It’s not a technical problem.”
But while Turcke criticizes Netflix for allowing people to access what they like, the notion of providing content on customer-friendly terms is certainly not alien to the entertainment industry veteran.
“We, Bell Media, we, the industry, need to make our content more accessible. Viewers are demanding simplicity. And they will seek it out,” she said.
Noting that consumers are simply not willing to tolerate restrictions surrounding online streaming rights, ‘windowing’ and national borders, Turcke warned the audience:
“It is enough to drive anyone to the dreaded Netflix. Legally or illegally.”