Thursday, April 30, 2015

A stark difference in Netflixes

In trying to combat a bout of insomnia last night, I logged into Netflix and suffered the type of shock that might have delayed my eventual sleep an additional 30 minutes.

Until I realized what was happening, that is.

I started to scan my My List and found it decidedly short. In fact, it was a mere 79 titles long. As we have been building that My List for something like five years, and sometimes don't remove titles even after we've watched them (keeping them as sort of a cloud library of movies we love), it was a shock indeed to think that all that hard work had somehow gone down the drain.

Then I realized that my Hola unblocker was not functioning, and I was actually being logged in to the Australian version of Netflix.

Netflix has been here in Australia for about six weeks now, and it has been a huge hit. I've even heard that some of the ISPs are having trouble devoting enough bandwidth to meet the increased streaming demand.

Apparently, the site makes no distinction about the country where your account originated when it logs you in. Instead, it just takes the data available and displays whatever content is actually available in your current country.

In Australia, that was just 79 of the titles we had in our My List.

When I got Hola up and logged in to the U.S. version (breathing a huge sigh of relief that my U.S. version had not somehow been tainted by the "foreign" login), I was rather shocked about the actual number of titles in our My list:


That's right, a mere 23% of the titles on our American My List are actually available in Australia.

Until now I had no concrete way to gauge what the difference in offerings would actually be. I had heard some abstract numbers about the difference in the library sizes, but I hadn't even paid attention to the numbers enough for them to stick in my brain. This made things abundantly clear.

See, when we moved to Australia in 2013, we bemoaned that Netflix was not yet available here, and wrung our hands about what we would do. That phase was fairly short-lived, as we quickly discovered about Hola and its ilk, which can trick websites into thinking we're in different countries than we actually are. We have enjoyed Netflix basically unfettered since arriving, with only an occasional time or two when the unblocker is acting up. But that's pretty rare, as it is a pretty handy and stalwart little plug-in.

The idea was that this would tide us over until Netflix actually arrived, which we always knew was on the horizon. But as the arrival date drew closer and closer, we knew that Netflix being available here legally was not enough for us to change course. Because this is the nature of most things in Australia, we knew it would be more expensive and offer fewer choices. So we resolved to stick with our American Netflix even after the service could be sourced locally.

Now I know why.

Less than a quarter of the titles. Sure, there are probably some different titles offered here that are not available in the U.S., but trust me, I have no interest in finding out what they are. I like my My List as it is, thank you -- as we've been building it for nearly five years.

I wonder if I will be forced to make the conversion at some point, though. We've been hearing about countries like Australia trying to crack down on the unblockers, trying to force international websites (primarily U.S.-based websites) to re-engineer their websites to beat the VPNs. I've even heard that some sites have knuckled under, and some other VPNs (though not Hola) no longer function as they once did. The websites themselves have not been eager to comply, for reasons that are probably somewhat obvious. They want customers to receive their content, either because they are paying customers (in the case of Netflix) or because it exposes more eyeballs to their advertisements (on other websites we visit through Hola, where the content is otherwise free). Those who are hurt by the current arrangement are the local country's content providers, who understandably cannot get as many subscribers the more competitors there are -- especially low-priced competitors like Netflix.

Now that Netflix is here, though, we may have been extended a permanent sort of amnesty. It will no longer be possible to argue that Australians are illegally streaming the U.S. Netflix, because Netflix exists here now and there are a huge number of subscribers. After all, in order to be a U.S. Netflix customer you actually have to have a U.S. mailing address, which we happen to come by naturally. Native Australians who have been making up U.S. addresses (I know a guy who made up an address in Beverly Hills because of the 90210 area code) are going to be the minority, because your average viewer does not want to perpetrate a fraud when a lawful means of accessing the content exists.

And if they don't know that they are only receiving 23% of the content Americans are receiving, well, ignorance is bliss.

After all, it's 100% more than they were receiving before Netflix arrived.

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