You are here

Netflix and the Geoblocked Internet

The next speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Nicole Hentrich, who shifts our focus to the problem of geoblocking in accessing televisual content online. Such Internet content is still controlled on a geographic basis; the Internet is thus not experienced the same by everyone, on both an individual, regional, and national basis.

Even when new services enter a local market – as Netflix did in Australia earlier this year – these issues do not go away. Netflix became officially available in Australia in March 2015, though some 200,000 subscribers had already been using it through VPNs – more than were using official video-on-demand services.

Australia is geographically remote and comparatively isolated; this domestic remoteness has had implications for communication policy and infrastructure. Technology has drawn some aspects of the world closer in recent decades, but various divisions are reproduced in online environments, for example in the rules of how media content is distributed in(to) the country.

Recent debates around the introduction of Netflix have re-invoked themes of place, space and distance; moves to limit access to some content have continued to operate on geographic patterns even though much content is now created for niche rather than local audiences.

The problem for users is that they see that content is available elsewhere; that other users can have it. This drives the use of circumvention technologies to overcome artificial barriers to access, especially once access to content is understood by users as a right that is being kept from them by content providers. Such non-industry-sanctioned use has invoked rhetorics of piracy and theft, and calls to regulate, screen and filter the Internet. This is sometimes framed by industry as protecting viewers from content that is not relevant to them, especially in the context of local content regulations.

Netflix has policies against using VPNs to overcome geographic boundaries, but rarely pays any attention to circumvention; indeed, it makes money from these unauthorised users and can use them to explore user interest in markets where it does no yet have a presence. In understanding these phenomena, we must ensure that we do not take the US experience as normative for other countries, even if like Australia they are culturally similar.