TV Content Delivery – Collisions in the Digital Paradigm VI

This article has been posted before but I have updated it in light of subsequent events like the settlement of the Global Plus Case. I had occasion to recall it as a result of a very interesting session at Nethui on 10 July about – you guessed it – copyright.

I have blogged before on the problems of market segmentation and regionalisation of content – especially in the context of access to downloadable content. Like many I am of the view that the Digital Paradigm has swept away many of the preconceptions that may once have existed about the distribution of music and video content. As services become available, more and more people are eschewing the covert downloading of material and opting for a paid service. Netflix is an example. Even so, some content distributors just haven’t got it right.

Take Television New Zealand and TV3 for example. They boast an “On-Demand Service” that really is not very satisfactory at all. All the content is available for a short term only and then it vanishes. The opportunity¬†to watch a whole series of “back to back” episodes is just not available. To make matters worse, some of the content, such as “American Crime” is not available on “free to air” TV thus making it impossible to time shift using MySky and watching an episode or a number of episodes at a convenient time. Rather like broadcast TV, if you can’t make it in front of a screen when the network is prepared to make the content available, you miss out. To make matters even worse, if one is travelling within the “window of opportunity” that the networks allow us to view an episode or episodes, regional blocking means that the content is “not available” in the US, UK or the Continent and who wants to go through the proxy or VPN hassle when one is travelling. Hardly a satisfactory way of delivering content in a Global environment.

I understand that broadcast and screening rights are governed by licensing arrangements and it seems to me that these licensing arrangements contribute to the market segmentation-regionalisation problem. One would have thought that when Netflix arrived in New Zealand one of its big selling points would be the third series of “House of Cards”. But no. Netflix in New Zealand doesn’t have the rights. Nor, it would seem, does anyone else. Astonishing!

There are some that I know who resolve this problem by anonymisation or VPN and take out subscriptions to US based content providers like Hulu or Netflix. All perfectly legal (up to a point) in that the fees have been paid and there is no suggestion of downloading content for free via bit torrent. The only issue is a contractual one – misrepresentations have been made as to location. Yet no one loses, especially when the content (like “House of Cards Series 3) is simply not available in New Zealand.

The networks have put in place other measures to discourage piracy. Broadcast series like “The Walking Dead”, “Arrow” and “Game of Thrones” are broadcast simultaneously in New Zealand – whether this is to prevent piracy by downlaoding or to prevent fans from seeing “spoilers” on their Twitter feeds or Facebook pages I know not – there is already a spoiler out for “Game of Thrones” – a book in fact, but it is rather large and requires a considerable attention span not possessed of many in these days of instant on-line gratification.

But what has happened in recent times is a further move to cement in market segmentation and regionalisation of content delivery. Internet service providers who have made a “global” option available so that their subscribers can view overseas content via Hulu are in the firing line from the major players in the content delivery field in New Zealand. Lets just say that the legal position is an interesting one and will provide lawyers with some novel arguments in the area of copyright and copyright licensing. For those who desire certainty in the law, the fact that the case settled is a irritating

But to what avail. Should the major players be successful they will have shut down one way by which Digital Natives get their content. In the spirit of Michael Froomkin’s concept of regulatory arbitrage, those who seek content will find it via VPN or other anonymisation techniques. Perhaps it is time for the majors to realise that old style market segmentation and content delivery methods have had their day. Digital delivery has been adopted by most, but still with the tattered trappings of pre-digital thinking. A global approach to content delivery ¬†should be adopted, together with a more meaningful local “on-demand” business model. All that is required is a shift in thinking.