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.

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