from the international-whac-a-mole dept
Last week, Netflix surprised everybody by announcing the service was now available in 130 additional countries, bringing the grand total of available countries to 190. And while this will certainly force many broadcasters to stop whining about VPNs and start competing, the fact remains that thanks to geographical licensing restrictions, the content being made available to Netflix customers in Canada will look dramatically different to the catalog available to users in Germany. As such, there's been renewed interest in the use of VPNs to engage in what's effectively global Netflix content tourism.
Netflix has made a few token gestures over the last year to appease broadcasters, such as fleeting efforts to thwart VPNs and geo-restriction avoidance tools. Those efforts were already in play in the 60 countries Netflix operated in before this recent expansion. But speaking at CES, Netflix exec Neil Hunt basically admitted that there's not really all that much Netflix can do to stop VPN use, unless they want to waste calories on an international game of Whac-A-Mole:
"We do apply industry standard technologies to limit the use of proxies,” (Netflix chief product officer Neil) Hunt says. “Since the goal of the proxy guys is to hide the source it’s not obvious how to make that work well. It’s likely to always be a cat-and-mouse game. [We] continue to rely on blacklists of VPN exit points maintained by companies that make it their job. Once [VPN providers] are on the blacklist, it’s trivial for them to move to a new IP address and evade."Clearly Netflix got some blowback for admitting the futility of VPN bans, however, as the company has since posted a new blog post full of non-statements that try to walk back Hunt's comments a little bit:
"Some members use proxies or “unblockers” to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies."Now most of the media read this statement to mean Netflix is implementing some severe new assault on VPNs, but if you read the statement carefully all Netflix is saying is it's going to continue using the same tools they've always used. The same tools one of their key executives just got done publicly admitting don't actually work. It's simply not possible to really ban VPN use, but Netflix wants to make partners in its 190 service countries feel comfortable while it slowly but surely works toward eliminating geo-restrictive licensing entirely. Also said by Hunt at CES:
"Our ambition is to do global licensing and global originals, so that over maybe the next five, 10, 20 years, it’ll become more and more similar until it’s not different"..."We don’t buy only for Canada; we’re looking … for all territories; buying a singular territory is not very interesting any more."...“When we have global rights, there’s a significant reduction in piracy pressure on that content. If a major title goes out in the U.S. but not in Europe, it’s definitely pirated in Europe, much more than it is if it’s released simultaneously,” Mr. Hunt says.More consistent licensing reduces piracy, but it also forces legacy companies to compete and upsets the status quo by weakening local broadcaster power, so expect 2016 to be jam-packed with oodles more hand-wringing over VPN and proxy use by companies terrified of change.
As an aside, if you were curious just how fractured Netflix content availability is by country (often because content rights are sold before Netflix can even bid), Finder this week released a pretty amazing breakdown of what's available by country, an accompanying map highlighting global availability, and a breakdown of what percentage of the U.S. catalog is available in each country.