Why Shouldn't Aussies Dodge Geoblocking When We're Still Getting A Raw Deal On Content?

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Despite the streaming revolution we're still paying more than Americans for content, and getting less in return. Hollywood and the music studios have always treated Australians as second-class citizens to be fleeced and it seems that little has changed with the subscription streaming revolution. While globalisation works in favour of big business, we're still expected to abide by geo-blocking and shop local even when we're getting screwed.

Despite fierce competition amongst content providers, Australians are still getting a raw deal, according to the Australian Access to Digital Media: 2017 Report compiled by QUT's Digital Media Research Centre with funding from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

The study tracked pricing and availability of 6118 albums, 3880 films, 1298 television series and 346 console games in one month in 2017. It focused on the most popular media titles from the past five years and includes data from Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, Foxtel, Stan, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer and other popular media sites.

When it comes to buying or renting movies and TV shows from the likes of Apple's iTunes store, Australians pay roughly the same as Americans but we have limited access to titles. Only about 65 per cent of movie titles and 75 per cent of TV titles available in the US can be accessed by Australian consumers, according to the report.

It's much worse for streaming film and television from all-you-can-eat subscription services like Netflix; Australians can only access 38 per cent of streaming films and 39 per cent of streaming TV shows available in the US.

We get a better deal on music and games when it comes to the availability of titles, but in return we get slugged with a hefty Australia tax. Music albums are on average 24 per cent more expensive in Australia than the US, while games are 20 per cent more expensive.

The report says the only case where Australian consumers are not at a disadvantage is music streaming, where we have access to approximately the same number of titles for slightly cheaper subscription fees.

That might be true, but I know I still run into "this track is not available in your region" problems when listening to streaming music services. I expect we have access to more Australian music on local subscription libraries which is not available to Americans, which helps balance out the numbers.

It's not just with streaming services, Australian are generally treated with disdain by US-centric content providers. DVDs and Blu-rays sold in Australia often contain fewer special features than their US counterparts, while Dolby Atmos soundtracks are rare on local Blu-rays. Apparently it's just not worth the hassle of treating us like equals.

So why do content providers treat Australians so badly? Because they can, using anti-competitive tools like geoblocking to stop us shopping around for a better deal. It's this kind of attitude which drives some Australians to piracy, but it's not too hard to bend the rules and beat geoblocking if you're happy to pay for content but want a better deal.

Netflix's cat and mouse game with geododging services continues – Netflix seems to have the upper hand but some VPN and DNS workarounds will still get Australians into the US Netflix library. Meanwhile it's not difficult to create a US iTunes or Google Play account, not just in pursuit of more content and better prices but also for earlier access to movies than in the local stores.

Don't expect help from Australian politicians. They're quick to come to the aid of content providers in the war on piracy, but are all talk when it comes to fighting for the rights of consumers.

Do you take matters into your own hands? How do you access foreign content to beat the Australia tax?

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.



    Our government services overseas copyright holders more than it services its people in this matter.

    Don't expect help from Australian politicians.

    Perhaps its my naivety showing, but this seems like a no-brainer for pollies seeking a boost in public support. Stop standing behind the faceless juggernauts of Village Roadshow et al for a few seconds, and actually listen to your constituents.

    But those kickbacks... mhhh...

      But to politicians its the flipside, people are the faceless masses, the juggernauts are the faces that invite them personally to advance screenings of the Lego Movie and pay to sit at their fundraisers and charity events.

      On the other hand - what do you expect them to do?
      Gov: "Please stop geoblocking."
      Netflix: "Okay. Rights holders, please let us stop geoblocking."
      RH: "Lol, no kthxbai."

      The government can't legislate that geoblocking is illegal and expect the industry to just go "Oh shit, well, better start offering the same content!" The industry will simply stop offering services or content instead, forcing you to buy blurays or whatever. The government also has to balance the legitimate concerns of copyright infringement with access to media (or leave it up to the judiciary to sort out on a case by case basis, see the DBC LLC case).

      The assumption that the government can simply wave a magical legislative wand around and everything will go back to normal ignores the fact that businesses can choose to offer whatever content or services they like at whatever price point they decide. The only way to punish them is publicly shaming them and refusing to pay for the content. Look at the Australia Tax enquiry - it found that we do pay more for a lot of things, but the government can't do anything about it.

        So if the government is powerless, the only way for Aussie to "negotiate" a better pricing structure would be to pirate everything.

        I've never though of piracy as a tool to be used to negotiate prices before.

          Boycotting also works but yeah you can't go with out your latest episode of what ever.

            Sadly boycotting (or pirating) does bugger all since we're such a small portion of the global market. We're less than 10% of the US so while it'd annoy them that they lost a small amount of revenue it would be just that a *small* amount of revenue.

          Except they'll probably just turn to lawsuits instead, which leaves the government and judiciary in the uncomfortable position of having to uphold the letter of the law - and they won't let the law die because it makes copyright meaningless if they do. You might not care if HBO doesn't get their cut for GoT, but Starving Indie Band certainly do if they don't get theirs.

        I'd assumed (hoped) that the free trade agreement would have removed the geoblocking with the US and a bunch of Asian nations. Of course that all went to hell (and it may not have happened anyway).

        Without a single global government I can't see a way to stop geoblocking (or any other pricing issues). Doesn't matter if our Govt says geoblocking is illegal we don't have any control over a US (or EU or wherever) company. Our best hope is that the companies involved actually realise that a global market is a global market and it doesn't matter whether they make money from US customers or AU ones, just as long as they make money.

    Don't forget that Netflix only seems to institute these geo-blocking rules at the insistence of the content-owners. It was only after significant pressure 'from above' that Netflix started cracking down on usage from VPN's etc. I don't think Netflix themselves care, but they have to act in order to keep their suppliers happy, otherwise their suppliers may 'do a Disney'.

    Once Disney's streaming service is up and running they'll surely be putting up any and all barriers against bypassing geo-blocks whilst also charging the Australia-tax (+ GST).

    Jesus! the corporations are in all politicians pockets, so in order to solve the problem, you need to solve greed, both corporate and political. How do you reckon that's gonna work out?

    I fail to see why Movie and Tv show companies would be angry about dodging geoblocks? We are still paying for the content. We could very easily pirate your product but instead we are putting in extra effort to pay for it. Unless you do want us to pirate your content instead?

    You cant claim piracy is hurting your buiness and then get angry when we try to pay for your product.

      The geoblocks are only in place for them to control the distribution and pricing of their product. If you circumvent the geoblock you are taking that control away from them. Instead of them telling you how and when you consume their content, you're telling them how and when you consume their content. That's why they get angry.

      They wanted Australians to wait several months after the US to see a movie that was made in this country. They got angry when Australians responded with screw you we will see it when the US does thanks very much.

      It's a dated and archaic business model that should not be a thing in this digital day and age, but it is what it is.

        Plus they have licensing and distribution deals with other companies. So while you're paying netflix for a show it may not be netflix in Oz that actually has distribution rights. So it should technically be someone else who gets paid.

        It's a huge freakin mess to be honest.

    Not just Australia, I understand that Asia and Europe pay more too?

    Geo blocking content is also used because certain things haven't been classified in this country. For some it maybe easier to block them go through the hassle of classifying it.

      That's also true I know there were a bunch of movies originally refused classification here which would probably pass the board quite happily these days. However, there is a fee to get your movie reviewed by the board. If you're a smallish company not expecting to make huge money from your movie it's probably not worth doing :(

      I couldn't find the Australian source, but the NZ classification board has a comparison with costs to the AU one.


      The base fee is AUD $550 (NZD $589) which increases according to running time. The fee for a 3½ hour DVD would be AUD $1090 (NZD $1168).

      Obviously that's tiny if you're getting the Avengers classified, but if you're Anchor Bay trying to sell get a niche horror film done it's not so small.

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