Last week, I logged into my Netflix account and tried to catch up on House of Cards - the sole reason I got on Netflix back in the day - before season 4 dropped on 4 March.
Then this happened.
My life is officially over pic.twitter.com/6gCGSfaYRg
— elissa (@elissaloi) February 29, 2016
But it’s not as if I didn’t see it coming. Ever since Netflix announced its global launch at CES in January, the end has been in sight for early adopters like myself who’ve been using VPN to access the internet TV service even before it was available in Singapore.
Where's your chill, Netflix?
Like many other VPN users, I signed up for VyprVPN (that dope snake icon is bonus) when I was in China on a work trip to keep my internet in proper functioning order. The ability to access Netflix came as a happy surprise and I started subscribing to the service mainly because of Netflix originals like House of Cards and BoJack Horseman that I couldn't get elsewhere (legally).
Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with using VPN. Virtual private networks are a way of staying secure when connecting to an unsecured public network, like your free Starbucks Wi-Fi when you're tripping and don't want to pay a fortune in data roaming fees.
I pay Golden Frog for my VPN and I also pay Netflix for my subscription; nothing wrong about that because I haven’t been consuming content for free.
I’m still paying Netflix for their content, just using a parallel importer of sorts to get what isn’t available to me on their local platform.
For instance, if a particular Lego model isn’t available in local Lego stores and you really want it, you’d use a parallel importer to get it. It isn’t a counterfeit and the money still goes to the people who made it.
Compared to downloading a torrent, isn’t using a VPN a preferred method? If it isn't piracy, what is wrong with it?
Since the VPN crackdown, Netflix has been on guard, explaining the rationale for the damaging move. "We would like to offer every single title everywhere around the world to all of our members at the same time. But we’re coming from this world where everything is licenced on a country by country and territory by territory basis," said Netflix's vice president and head of EMEA communications Joris Evers.
Does Netflix have a point about VPN? It's a question of content rights. To be more precise, it's the deals that Netflix has struck with the networks behind hit shows (like CW's Arrow) that tied its hands.
Netflix can carry the latest seasons almost immediately after the run ends on cable channels. But unfortunately, the deal most likely restricts Netflix to carry these shows in certain locales and only for a specific time period.
As Matt Pollins, Partner at Olswang Asia, clarifies, "This is usually because the rights are held exclusively by local platforms that have paid a large sum of money for them. The VPN services have not cleared the rights for broadcast and this can lead to copyright issues."
So is Netflix right to crack down on VPNs? "If users are misrepresenting their location then they are probably breaching the T&Cs of the online video services. These services usually have a right to switch off access to users who breach their T&Cs," added Pollins.
I did ask Netflix why they didn't wait till the licencing rights are all in place before making the service available globally. "We felt that it was more important to launch now and launch everywhere and then learn and improve rather than to wait and not give our service to people yet," explained Evers.
That makes sense for sure. But it still doesn't change the fact that Netflix's earliest subscribers and supporters are probably the most disappointed ones right now.
It's kind of contrary to a previous conversation I had with them about censorship and content. A conversation where they made sure to emphasize that Netflix is about choice - “you can watch it when you want, where you want, and how you want. Or don’t watch it."
To be fair, Netflix has acknowledged that the "global streamlining is something that will take time" and they're working on it by offering new content that's available worldwide, like Love, Cooked, and the upcoming season of Marvel's Daredevil.
And they're working on their older titles, too. For example, House of Cards which was unavailable in Singapore at launch has its earlier three seasons on Netflix right now. But the latest season, launched on Netflix US is prominently absent in the Singapore catalogue.
So while you can see Netflix slowly delivering on its promises of catalogue equilibrium, it’s not fast enough to be fair to its early adopters whose catalogue choices have essentially been shrunk down by Netflix’s geographical expansion. Ironic, huh?
Until then, Netflix is right, it is about consumer choice. And the choice to leave the service is entirely up to me, and the rest of their disgruntled audience. At least, until Netflix gets its catalogue act together.
Your move, Netflix.