Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Past slips into the past

I had something like 25 days to watch Asghar Farhadi's The Past on Vudu, yet the deadline passed yesterday without me doing so.


Because Vudu has beaten Hola.

I haven't talked about it much, but Hola is like my magic key to appreciating all the joys of U.S.-based web entertainment, but without actually being in the U.S. Many websites, Netflix chief among them, try to block you if you attempt to access their services in territories where they do not operate -- Australia being one of them.

That's where Hola comes in.

It's an unblocker, which means that with this free little piece of software installed on your computer, a bunch of different websites -- including those for all the major U.S. television networks -- think that your computer is residing in the United States. Pretty handy. It's the only reason we've been able to keep our Netflix service after moving. (Netflix is due in Australia in the near future, but even then it will be a severely truncated version of the extensive catalogue of titles enjoyed in the U.S.)

However, Vudu is somehow Hola-resistant. Oh, it appears that it will work. When you enable Hola, the error message changes from Vudu not being available in this part of the world, to just not being able to connect to the server. But in neither case am I watching the next movie from the director of my favorite film of 2011, A Separation.

I wouldn't even have been in this situation except that Vudu was trying to get me to become a more active user, and offered me a $5 credit toward anything on the site. I successfully applied my credit to The Past. I did not, however, successfully watch it.

And why does this matter? It's just another movie of many that I haven't seen yet.

Well, they talked about The Past on a podcast I listen to, Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit, over a month ago. And though I don't usually go to these lengths, I've been saving that episode (and therefore, all subsequent episodes) to listen to until I've seen it. (I have to go in order on podcasts, you see.) Given that I had this Vudu credit, I thought this would be easy enough to do.

But no -- Vudu wants me to be a customer, but only on their terms.

I feel like it's an antiquated model in this day and age, when the customer is even more always right than he/she used to be always right. You can buy something from Bed Bath & Beyond, grind it to dust in your blender, and return it for a full refund. As long as the box weighs the same amount, they won't even look inside. They'll just fork over the money.

So why does Vudu care so much whether I'm spending money on their service in the U.S. or Australia?

There's probably a legitimate answer to this, but I don't know what it is.

I understand that you can actually watch Vudu abroad if you are willing to invest in a VPN. And you can do this for fairly cheaply. But any cost at all kind of defeats my Vudu credit, doesn't it? Especially since there's no regular need for me to watch anything on Vudu, so the cost of the VPN would go entirely to a limited number of Vudu viewings.

Now I know the reason the only time I've watched something on Vudu was that time I randomly bought Mississippi Burning in early 2013. I couldn't get it from Netflix, you see, and I had to watch it for a project I was working on.

So now it's not only The Past that's in the past, but my interest in being a customer of Vudu.

You win, Vudu.

If you want to call a business-negative outcome a win.

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