3 min read

Global mode action: You Canute be serious

There’s a whiff of King Canute and the tide in the Nick Grant and Chris Keall NBR report: “Sky, Spark, TVNZ, MediaWorks take action against CallPlus, other global mode ISPs“:

Spark (owner of Lightbox), MediaWorks, Sky TV and TVNZ say they are taking action against internet and technology companies selling and promoting services that enable access to international geo-blocked TV and movie services.

Canute was a wise king who made his flatterers look stupid when he proved he could not hold back the tide as they claimed.

The four companies who buy the New Zealand rights to distribute overseas TV shows and movies would be wise to heed Canute’s example.

A flatterer has convinced them they can hold back the internet tide. Unlike Canute, they’ve fallen for the bait. This story is going to end badly for them even if they win the action mentioned in the NBR story.


Restricting access to online content depending on the location of the device requesting the material is called Geo-blocking. It means New Zealanders can’t normally get easy, direct access to content intended to be viewed by, say, only a US audience.

Note the words easy and direct in that last sentence. There are less easy and direct ways of getting that material.

Generally it’s just a matter of paying a monthly fee for a VPN or virtual private network and tinkering with a few esoteric settings on devices and routers.

There’s nothing illegal in this.

Nor is there anything immoral.

Rights holders often point out the morality of rewarding the artists and others who create works.

When people use VPNs to buy US-only services from companies like Netflix,  their money still ends up in the pockets of the people who make TV shows.

If anything a higher percentage of the money ends up in the show maker pockets because there’s less ticket clipping along the way.

Many Spark customers use VPNs this way. If the company objects to VPN and related technologies, it could stop them on its network. That would be commercial suicide, but it’s doable.

CallPlus – smart move

CallPlus’s so-called crime is offering an easy and direct way of getting around geo-blocking.

The company, which owns the Slingshot, Flip and Orcon broadband brands, has what it calls a ‘global mode’ service which allows customers to hide their whereabouts from content providers.

In effect global mode bundles VPN-like services into a customer’s monthly broadband subscription.

This takes us back to those words: easy and direct.

Understandable defensive move

It’s understandable companies who pay large sums for New Zealand TV rights want to protect their investment.

If there’s anything immoral in this game, it’s that larger media aggregators trick companies like Lightbox, TVNZ, Sky and Mediaworks into paying through the nose for content knowing damn well New Zealanders can and will buy it for less from Netflix or another global brand.

There’s no such thing as exclusive NZ rights in 2015.

The four companies may have a legal case against the companies in the US who sell them exclusive NZ rights without properly making sure the likes of Netflix do not then sell here. No doubt taking that kind of legal action would be ruinous.

InternetNZ weighs in

internetNZ CEO Jordan Carter sees the irony in the legal threat facing CallPlus when existing law allows parallel imports of DVDs.

In a media statement he says: “Moves like this won’t decrease piracy. New Zealand Internet users are still paying for content accessed via these services, many of them go off-shore to get content that local providers either don’t have or don’t provide on-demand.”

He says the legal action only serves to reduce choice.

“Consumers still have the choice to go with Sky, Spark and others’ online services. Efforts to undermine competition like this aren’t innovation: they are just trying to reduce our choices,” Jordan Carter says.

Meanwhile in Europe…

While lawyered-up New Zealand media companies seek to strengthen geo-blocking, Europe is moving in the opposite direction. There, legislators are talking of banning geo-blocking.

The European Union objects to copyright owners charging different prices for the same content to consumers in different countries.

That’s what is happening here with Netflix charging New Zealanders using its local service higher prices for less content than Australian or US consumers.

Counterproductive danger

The danger in the reported action is that Spark, Sky, Mediaworks and TVNZ are looking to shut down one of the legal ways New Zealanders buy content. That’s as likely to drive consumers back into the arms of pirates as it is to win them over to services like Lightbox.

As I said earlier, it’s understandable New Zealand media companies want to protect their investments, but they need to realise they’ve been sold a pup by the content giants.

There is no such thing as NZ exclusive content anymore, they should go back to Hollywood and get a refund. That’s not going to happen because when it comes to lawyering-up, Hollywood trumps Auckland.