by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
geographic restrictions, online video

hulu, sling, youtube

Online Video Sites Harming Themselves With Geographic Restrictions

from the the-internet,-it's-global dept

Techdirt reader Santiago Crespo recently wrote in making a really valid point about all the various authorized online video sites that seem to employ geographic restriction, much to their own detriment:
I live in Argentina, in South America and am an avid Heroes and House follower, but there's a problem watching those shows in our side of the world. Big network subsidiaries offer cable access to American TV shows, but for some unknown reason they can take up to six months to subtitle them in Spanish, and therefore we're stuck watching last season episodes all the time. I don't need subtitles to watch the series, since my grasp of the English language is decent enough to understand what the show is about.

But every time you want to use any legal video site such as Hulu, the NBC website, or even some bits of YouTube (Geo-restricted music videos), it will show an error message saying you're "geographically challenged." So instead of geolocalizing ads (as Google does, since I get ads for, a Latin American eBay clone here on Techdirt) they leave me no choice but to head over to the pirate bay to get my fix ad-free.

And even if your comprehension of English isn't good enough to watch the shows downloaded from Bittorrent, every single TV episode gets fansubbed within 24 hours of airing. I think the big networks are wasting a revenue opportunity by limiting who can watch their shows (6 months from now if you have cable) instead of letting you watch them on-line (unlimited audience potential) with some geo-located ads.
It's a really good point. Some of it may be due to rather old school and silly geographic "rights" issues, where certain contracts allow companies to only have the right to broadcast content in certain geographies so that the content owner can try to resell the same content in other areas as well. Yet, by now it should be clear that geographic specific content makes less and less sense, and really is detrimental to the content owners. Rather than making it easier to score big deals, all they're doing is encouraging piracy.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Twinrova, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 9:38am

    Then let them encourage it.

    Consumers aren't willing to put up with much more of this IP crap, and the more it becomes freely available, the less the business will be able to adopt.

    I guess Sprint will be spending much, much more on its in-air advertising for the next season of "Heroes".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    BrattyB, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 9:57am

    Even worse...

    I'm french and often get the same issue. What makes it worse in my opinion is that even purely promotional content gets blocked that way. So I can't view it on a legal site, it won't be file-shared because it's not a full show, and I won't even want to buy it since I can't know what it's about. So everybody lose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 9:59am

    Several years ago...

    ... I actually tried to pay for a show that I regularly bittorrent. They had a crappy paid streaming version, so I pulled out my credit card. It was declined because it wasn't tied to a European address...

    So I just kept bittorrenting the show. That was probably 3 years ago, and that show has lost at least a few hundred dollars of revenue from me alone. I've often said that really popular shows (like Top Gear) could probably make at least $100 million/year if they would just allow viewers to pay some small sum for it (say $5/month or something, with access to premium private bitorrents).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Casey, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:05am

    Same thing here in Canada

    I get the exact same thing here in Canada. If I try and watch a Stephen Colbert clip, it says that I am not able to view the video and that I have to go to the Canadian affiliate in order to check it out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Ben, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:30am

    Re: Same thing here in Canada

    At least with clips from the Comedy Central website, we are given a link to the Canadian Comedy Network affiliate who hosts all the same videos. What's more frustrating is that Canadians can't watch videos on Hulu even though we get the shows at the exact same time as American viewers and usually through the same networks (I watch The Office and 30 Rock on NBCHD. Family Guy, The Simpsons etc. on FOXHD). If I happen to miss an episode, I have no choice but to get it illegally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:30am

    I find a nice proxy service to do the trick. Or mask my outgoing IP address as to appear as if I am coming from the required country. A pain but if you search the net a bit you can find some reasonably easy to use tools to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    PaulT (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:38am

    Old news

    This is pretty old news for anyone who's been on the wrong side of this. I currently live in a small town in Spain which is popular with language students. They often want to buy DVDs to take back home with them to watch at home, but I've lost count of the number of people who didn't bother because of the regional restrictions.

    Digitally, it's just as bad. I'd like to watch the new Doctor Who, but I'm blocked online because I'm not in the UK. Local TV doesn't show it, and when they do British TV, it's dubbed into Spanish so is pretty useless to me (my Spanish isn't great and the lack of lip sync annoys the hell out of me). The answer would supposedly be to buy the DVDs, but I'm not going to blow 30 Euros or more when I don't even know if I like the thing. So, they're actively rejecting my money. Another silly example is the Amazon music store, who will sell me a CD but not an MP3 through the same website.

    Maybe it's down to a rights issue for historical content, but I cannot understand why new content produced in the Internet age is restricted like this. Remember, no illegal P2P site is ever going to say "oops you can't download this". IMHO, if a content producer blocks me from being able to buy something legally, that means they don't want my money. in that case, they're implicitly asking me to pirate it! Cunning plan not thought all the way through, i believe...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Stew, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:40am

    The Stupid Thing...

    is that all too often the content that is ip-blocked isn't even available in the other country. For instance the various mini-sodes for BSG on I couldn't watch them from Canada and SciFi didn't even license them to the Canadian broadcaster.

    SciFi seems to be the worst offender of this sort. Instead of allowing everyone to view what is essentially promo content they block us. And then either don't bother to license it elsewhere or they try and charge a ridiculous amount for the license and it STILL doesn't get shown elsewhere. Why aren't they showing it with an ad to buy the dvds or something?

    I can understand IP restrictions if they have actually licensed it to someone else in the user's country but IP blocking, apparently just to save bandwidth, is stupid in the long run. If someone is just surfing because they have heard about "Program X" then booting them to save bandwidth is chasing away a potential future source of revenue.

    They are

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    simon, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:42am

    online video stream/geographical isolation/payed subscribers/mixed bussines models/no happines both sides

    so let's put-it on table shows make money out of broadcasting rights/publicity sold (in show or show breaks)/public appearance by show stars & guests/show related merchandise (t-shirts, toys, collectibles) so, why they don't make a buck out of streaming worldwide ? i think they can really chip in more then by offering local TV stations monopolies... because that's all that protect this geographical restrictions. say let option, chip 1 euro/dollar whatever, chip a 10buck monthly subscription on a stream show, release the clamp on restriction, add some free TV-news emails to the packet, some decent "post-art" contests whatever, and there you go, all happy... TV shows get their shows(but not as a national/geographical monopoly)all who need get their favorite show, whenever they like, even when it airs on, or soon after (1-5) days, so all can go happy about. no ranting over non payed content from producing side, no ranting from consumer side about schedule/availability until whoever does this wakes up and realize this all can come free ( for lots of this torrents you hear about in small format or large HDTV rips)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Jeff, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 10:59am

    We need international distribution agreements

    The problem in most cases is that a particular site (say, Hulu) doesn't hold the right to broadcast worldwide, online. For example, if NBC sells the rights to a show to CTV here in Canada, then CTV (in most cases) also has the online distribution rights for this country. Ie, Hulu isn't legally allowed to broadcast that show here.

    If we move to international online distribution without borders and all coming from the same site, what happens to the local media companies that show mostly American content? In Canada CTV, Global, and even CBC will be cut out of the game..... They might be forced to find and promote their own content, and not just broadcast whatever their American counterparts have put together! Oh no :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    tim stevens, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 11:02am

    use bittorrent

    I bittorrent the various shows I wish to watch and thus avoid the commercials too!

    For those who have and will jump on me for the usual "if everyone used bittorrent, there would be no tv programs left" I say, yeah, so what?

    So, use bittorrent (I like uTorrent [micro torrent]) and watch what you want when you want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 11:34am

    Even nextdoor neighbours...

    Even living an hour and a half drive from Buffalo, I can't listen to, can't watch videos of Hulu and whenever an American site links to Colbert or the Daily Show, rather than watching the embedded video clip from Comedy Central, I have to go to the Comedy Network and search for the clip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 11:42am

    Same here. I regularly watch Prison Break, 24, Heroes, House, Lost, Chuck, The Big Bang Theory and others. When Amazon started selling them online, I wanted to stop bittorrenting them and pay the price. I couldn't, as I'm from Argentina. Long story short, I'm still getting my fix the day after airing in the US and I'm still on the wrong side of the law (although I'm way out of the jurisdiction of said law). With Prison Break and The Big Bang Theory, the delay is only about 3-4 weeks, so I watch that on TV. With the rest, I don't really have an option.

    Also, as it has already been pointed out, it's worst with promotional content. Heroes webisodes for instance will never be available on TV, and I don't get to watch them on-line because of geographic discrimination. Only choice: crappy youtube versions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    ECA (profile), Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:00pm


    I love the IDEA of a world market..
    I like cartoons.
    And many sites (cartoon network and such) have links to other countries they have sites.. The Cartoons change and have versions I havent seen.. BUT I cant play them.
    So, I have to use backdoors, and other alternatives to watch them.
    the SAME happens with Yahoo, MSN, and others.. If you would like to play GAMES from other countries, where they have servers, YOU CANT..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Jason Hirschhorn, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:07pm

    Online Video Sites Harming Themselves With Geographic Restrictions

    Unfortunately this is the disaster zone called the content rights game. This content is not ours and thus we need to follow the evolving, but still old school ways it will be licensed. The media fortunes were built on windows of access, geographic territories and scarcity.

    As many of you point out now. Scarcity, the same situation that caused fortunes to be built in media, now causes piracy. And if its not there, users find other ways.

    Now there are sites opening up all over the world with legal premium content, but the idea of geo-targetting the web, which is exactly the opposite of what it was meant for is an archaic approach.

    that said, these content companies do face agreements and value chain partners that inevitably slow them down from evolving past this or at a pace that is more user friendly.

    It is like a result of pressures from cable, satellite, talent, retail, theaters and others that choke the speed at which things are global.

    Also note, if the content is available, its often not in perpetuity, thus, shows and episode are up one day, taken down the next.

    Its getting better, but not at the pace we want.

    Jason Hirschhorn

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:07pm

    Dont blame the messenger (or video site), as with most syndications, the restrictions are usually contractual obligations coming from the content owner/provider, not the video site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Vrobca, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:31pm

    map of the u.s.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Vrobca, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:33pm

    Re: map of the u.s.

    huge market outside the u.s., i know this cause im currently living in a small central american country ( Costa Rica ) and the internet culture is huge. Imagine the day the Internet is used a global market tool.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:38pm

    does this REALLY slow you guys down?

    I regularly watch videos on all the time and I live in the States. I simply use a proxy that is in the U.K. and they know no different. Firefox even has a "Switch Proxy" addon that will let you do it nearly seamlessly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 12:52pm

    Re: "Don't Blame The Messenger"

    Dont blame the messenger (or video site), as with most syndications, the restrictions are usually contractual obligations coming from the content owner/provider, not the video site.

    This isn’t about blame, it’s about what’s happening. And what’s happening is that all these tangled contractual agreements and restrictions are getting in the way of fulfilling market demand. When a potential customer wants to get access to content, and finds that access blocked, do they care why it’s blocked? No—and why should they?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Mark Rosedale, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 1:24pm

    Just wrote about this

    I just wrote about this on my blog. I have a friend, who is American, that is in a different country for the year. He ran into several legitimate problems with artificial georestrictions. One was that he couldn't pay his loan, and a second was a potential grad school. My solution was to setup an ssh proxy, which works like a charm. If anyone is going out of the country for an extended period of time this would be the way to go.

    Beyond that I think it is wrong, though. Before the internet there were natural geographic barriers, but in today's world there are none, and this game of artificially blocking the content seems silly to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Eisenhans, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 5:18pm

    While it is true that most networks in (AU) pay substantial amounts to screen shows here it is probably reasonable that they have some sort of protection,after all what would be the point if anyone could just go to Hulu , NBC or whatever and watch there.The problem to my mind is in how they actually screen or not screen the shows that they have purchased,just in recent times a particular network here decided to show the last series of "The Shield" a particular favorite of mine,to begin with they slotted it at the ungodly hour of sometime around midnight,not ideal but I could live with that,then after three episodes "POOF" gone,now in the past viewers had no choice but to cop it on the chin and hope that it may come back at a latter stage but not anymore thanks to "TPB" where I have the show on my BSTV six hours after they air in the US.I believe rightly or wrongly that this sort of disdain for their viewers in many cases eventually leads them to other avenues, that once discovered make it easier each time to circumvent them altogether.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Proxy, Dec 8th, 2008 @ 11:30pm

    Use a Proxy

    It's really not hard people. It's not. It's easy. It's simple. It's a proxy. Use it. Here's a link for you

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Razors Edge, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 2:46am

    It's all Relative

    What's really harming them is that in some countries people who live closer to the border can get internet from companies that outlocate their internet services to other neighbouring countries so you're in x country, but your ip address would be from x country's neighbor. So they get messed up with geocode and it doesn't track you properly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Fitcher's Bird, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 3:00am

    Just a note to point out the other side of this equation. I stopped torrenting Heroes once BBC3 starting showing it just a couple of days after its US air date. I'd much prefer to watch on my television than on my computer but I don't see the point of these artificially induced wait periods.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 3:27am


    I agree the silly delays in releasing content is just stupid.

    But even so, I still download Heroes because it's just much easier to watch it when I want, rather than being locked to a schedule. Also, by downloading I can get it in HD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    riotnrrd, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 3:39am


    I get annoyed by the pointless restrictions as well. Free content in the US iTunes store isn't available in my local store, for pay or for free.

    However, even if the content is available, I don't want to watch (say) the Pixar shorts dubbed into Italian. I want the English-language version, but iTunes will only deliver a dubbed version because my credit card is billed to an address in a non-English-speaking country. I was ready to drop six Euros or whatever it was per short, but I torrented the lot instead.

    The same goes for DVDs. Sometimes something is not made available in my country because it hasn't been dubbed, so I have to buy it from an international supplier and pay extra tax and shipping. That's if it makes it to my DVD region in the first place, of course, and even when it does show up it's several months after the US release most of the time, which means lots of DVD rips taunting me on the tracker sites.

    Another pet DVD peeve is with hard-coded subtitles. I can speak French perfectly well, why can't I turn off the English subtitles? Never mind the incredibly annoying anti-piracy message on the DVD. I already *bought* the stupid thing, don't make me watch two minutes of your incredibly irritating advert. That just makes me want to torrent films in the future instead of downloading them.

    As for Top Gear, I torrent that as I am outside the UK, even though I subscribe to a satellite service which licences it. However, they are at least six months behind the broadcast schedule, so I use the torrent to stay in sync. At least the satellite provider is passing on some of my money, so I don't feel too bad, but this is not the case for all programmes.

    I think iTunes could be the way to go, as they are already set up in all the various regions. I just wish they would add an "international" option to the store, so that I could get content and recommendations that are not tied to where my credit card is billed. People have much more eclectic tastes and experience these days than in the past, and there is a market for a truly global media portal, if the content licencing can be sorted out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 4:46am

    Does it seem ridiculous to anyone that fan groups can accomplish in 24 hours what professionals take weeks (or months) to do?

    Someone posted about tv shows disappearing if everyone torrented them. I don't think so. I think the quality of fan made shows would rise. I'm beginning to think that you wouldn't need the content at all.

    A lot of people mentioned Heroes. Do you honestly believe you couldn't write a story that moved extremely slowly with heroes who suck at using their powers? The difference is still in special effects and production costs, but I bet those costs head south soon.

    Online in the last few years I've seen lightsaber battles better than star wars and I've seen translations happen in days not months.

    What do we need the big content providers for? Is it just so we can get great actors like Peter Petrelli?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Fernando, Dec 9th, 2008 @ 2:11pm


    You've completely missed the point. The content owners don't give a damn whether you watch the content or not; that's secondary. All they care about is delivering eyeballs to advertisers. And those advertisers only pay for North American eyeball exposures (there's no point telling Argentinians about Wendy's hamburgers.)

    It would be a waste of money for Hulu to pipe gigabytes outside the continent for no additional revenue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    WeekTV, Dec 12th, 2008 @ 3:31pm

    Now it is possible to forget about the rules imposed by another's people and stereotypes, about infinite advertising both monotonous transfers and show. Now you will choose what to look itself. Look new and popular in a mode "online"!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    andykadik, Dec 13th, 2008 @ 2:02am

    hehe.. This page about watch bones is good too.

    hehe.. This page about watch bones is good too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Mason, Jan 13th, 2009 @ 9:28pm


    Just use a proxy server like I do to watch Canadian programming that's region locked. All you have to do is copy the url, then Google "American proxy server", find one that works and badabing. It's not perfect, but it works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Gordon, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 5:16am

    Geographical restriction on internet video content

    This geographical restriction is really completely against the whole idea of being connected on the web. It certainly entertains piracy, because people have no other choice.

    Why can't I simply see highlights of a Lakers game, anywhere in the world?

    By putting up restrictions on even the simplest of content, the U.S. is again alienating the rest of the world. The idea/belief that no one else matters remains enforced.

    Don't worry, keep your restrictions, we will find another way to keep ourselves entertained. When we do, find someone else to blame.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    John Driedger, Mar 29th, 2009 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Re: Same thing here in Canada

    At least we are given a link? Yes to the home site of Comedy Central, how is that helpful when you are wanting a particular clip? It is UTERLY useless and more frustrating than what you say is more frustrating. Where is the site that gives CLEAR step by step on how to set your browsers (PC AND Mac) to use a proxy to appear like a computer in the US?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Vancouver event video, Apr 17th, 2009 @ 3:33am

    Hi, Thanks, for the nice post, it is really very informative and very helpful for my future. I really appreciate it. Keep post regularly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. icon
    wyattearp (profile), Nov 30th, 2009 @ 7:03pm

    Canada's restriction on streaming video to USA

    CBC (Canada) has an asinine policy restricting their video to be viewed outside of Canada. They recently featured a documentary about the doubts people have regarding the official U.S. Government report as to the 9-11-2001 demolition of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. I wanted to watch this documentary from their website, but it would NOT work. So, I emailed CBC and got the silly answer that streaming to Internet users outside of Canada was prohibited because of "copyright infringement". I think that this is an engineered lame excuse and shows the arrogance of a government run tax supported network. I doubt that PBS prohibits streaming webcasts to Canada! Canada is nothing like it used to be with these limits on freedom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Pablo, Feb 9th, 2010 @ 9:29pm

    Re: Canada's restriction on streaming video to USA

    Actually, PBS does restrict it's web streams to Canada. It's quite frustrating, and extremely sad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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