Yesterday I was pissed. I came home and tried to watch the new Avatar trailer on Yahoo and was cruelly informed that the video was ‘unavailable in my location’. I’m sorry, do I live in the outer-reaches of the Arctic? Last time I checked Toronto was a major metropolitan city. And Canada was a first-world country. We’re a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the United States and Yahoo somehow has the audacity to tell me that I am unable to watch a trailer for an upcoming movie. A trailer. For a movie that I’m fairly certain Fox wants me to pay to see in theatres. Well guess what, Fox? Now I’m going to see Avatar twice, instead of the three times that I had planned to go. So you guys can deal with that.
This, of course, is merely a symptom of a larger problem. I write articles about Hulu charging/not charging for content and none of that actually matters to me (or the rest of the world) because only Americans can watch videos on Hulu (I think they’re working on making it available in the U.K., but I’m not sure this has happened yet). Same with Fox.com. Or ABC.com. Or any other network’s website. The worst site for this is MTV.com, where you can’t even watch interviews outside of the U.S., nevermind previews or television shows. And do you know why? It has something to do with our copyright laws. And the U.K.’s copyright laws. And the U.S.’s copyright laws. And France’s copyright laws. And even Azerbijan’s copyright laws.
Piracy of movies and television shows has been growing. While I cannot say why, I think one of the reasons may be the lack of access to sites like Hulu beyond American borders. If you cannot watch it legally online, you’ll download torrents. Or use programs to spoof your IP addresses so that you can watch shows on American websites. The movie and television networks are pouring millions of dollars into combating piracy. The recent prosecution of the Pirate Bay’s owners demonstrates this. But here’s another suggestion: why aren’t these companies spending this money to try and expand the reach of legal viewing of television shows and movies?
The practice of preventing people in outside locations from watching certain videos online is called ‘geoblocking’. My intellectual property lawyer friend tells me that it’s actually our Canadian copyright laws that need to change in order to gain access to this legal content, as well as the practices and policies of Canadian broadcasters. (just like it’s the fault of the U.K. government and broadcasters in that country and so on and so forth). Someone needs to get on this. It’s not like online viewing of video files is a new thing. Just because it’s taken the networks so long to realize that watching television online was the ‘next big thing’doesn’t mean it hasn’t been in practice for a long time. Newspapers and the print industry is general are suffering because of the internet and the world-wide proliferation of news online. If our government and the broadcasters – all around the world – can’t realize that online viewing is the future of television (although that’s not to say that it will necessarily replace regular viewing) then everyone will lose out. Because people are clever and will always find a way to do something mildly illegal to get around rules and restrictions.
Broadcasters on both sides of the border are trying to recreate the existing boundaries of the real world into the digital world by using geoblocking to protect their rights and investments, says Alan Sawyer, a Toronto-based consultant who follows traditional and new media. Source
Again, this quote merely illustrates my point. You cannot cling to the old broadcasting models. As a former lawyer myself I’m all about protecting legal rights, but surely there is a legal way around this. Deals can be made. Laws can be modified. And the internet can finally become a global medium where we can all tune in to watch Hulu. We could have local advertisers subsidize the streams we watch in different countries.
YouTube is one of the few sites that doesn’t seem to care about these ridiculous regulations and has basically capitulated under the weight of its own worldwide popularity and the collective demands of its users. Networks themselves post commercials for upcoming shows. The only restrictions on YouTube occur when studios get wise to the fact that a trailer has been leaked and want to block it (or other similar situations). Beyond that, I can happily watch scenes from a television show without someone blocking me because of my GPS location. This is why I make it a point to only post YouTube videos on TVOvermind. It’s my understanding that some people encounter the dreaded “this video is not available in your location” message on YouTube, but I believe that occurs significantly less frequently than on other sites and I myself have never had a problem with it.
Someone, somewhere isn’t working hard enough to make this happen. I don’t want to be told that I can’t watch something because of my location. Companies want to make money and stay in business and I appreciate that. But with the way the world is going, that’s going to take creative ideas and new models of business, not executives and governments stubbornly clinging to bedposts and door handles while the rest of the world tries to pull them in another direction.
Don’t mock me with your little blue frowny face, Yahoo. Get to work on this.
**Note: For some utterly ridiculous reason, if I continued clicking on the Avatar trailer “play” button and then left it open in my browser, it eventually started playing for me on its own and managed to disregard the fact that I live above the 49th parallel. I have no idea why this is, but I’d be interested to learn whether this worked for other people in Canada and around the world.
Also, Fox? Considering many people felt you botched Avatar Day, perhaps you should not have posted the newest trailer for this potential blockbuster on a site that would deliberately try to prevent people outside of the U.S. from watching it (whereas we could easily watch the teaser trailer on Apple’s site with no problems). And considering the combined overseas revenue will likely outweigh the domestic revenue, you might want to ensure that the rest of us have access to trailers like these. Just a thought**
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