“Aussies treated like second-class citizens”:
Choice blasts US TV giants



news Consumer watchdog Choice has issued a fiery statement accusing US content giants of giving Australians “a raw deal” when it comes to making television shows and films available in Australia, pointing out that Australians pay substantially more to access the same content and encouraging locals to use technical mechanisms to get around so-called “geo-blocking”.

“How many more stories about Australians pirating Game of Thrones do we need to see before the industry gets with the program?” said Matt Levey, Director of Campaigns and Communications at Choice. “Like consumers around the world, Australians are increasingly showing they want to access content at a reasonable price in a way that suits them. It’s called ‘the internet’. Unfortunately, some fans turn to piracy to access content when they might have paid. Piracy undermines the industry and is ultimately bad for consumers, but to counter it the industry needs to meet needs of consumers and embrace advances in technology,” said Levy.

According to Choice, Australians are being treated like second-class digital citizens when it comes to the availability of content, in stark contrast to the pricing and flexibility of content services in the United States.
“Netflix in the US costs only US$7.99 per month and features a hit-parade of shows including Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, House of Cards and Arrested Development. Back catalogues of most series are available for instantaneous viewing, along with other popular TV shows,” said Levy. “In Australia, Quickflix subscription costs range from AU$15 to AU$35 per month and you pay extra to watch some movies and TV shows. Also, it uses DVDs for new release movies, while Foxtel charges AU$72 per month.”
The consumer watchdog said Australians who use technical mechanisms such as supplied by sites like unblock-us.com or blockless-tv to bypass the virtual walls which make content more expensive and harder to access were helping create pressure for change, but also believes they should do so with their eyes wide open. The organisation has set up a site to help Australians work around US content blocks.
“It’s little wonder that Australian consumers are using free browser plugins such as Media Hint and Hola to access Netflix in the United States,” said Levey. “We encourage consumers to get around so-called ‘geo-blocks’ to pay for legitimate content, but you need to do your due diligence. Depending on terms of service, risks could include having your account suspended or restricted access to content you have already paid for.”
Choice’s comments come as pressure continues to grow on international content makers to make their content available in Australia on equitable terms compared with residents of larger countries such as the US. In late May, for example, Choice wrote an open letter to US IPTV giant Netflix asking how Australian fans of the hit TV show Arrested Development would be able to access the new season of the show, given that it was entirely funded by Netflix and made available only through Netflix’s online platform, which is not available in Australia.

In mid-May pay TV giant Foxtel confirmed reports that it will block the remaining seasons of HBO’s popular Game of Thrones series from being offered in Australia hours after the show is released in the US, due to an exclusive deal with the show’s producer HBO signed in October last year. The move essentially locks those without a Foxtel subscription out of watching Game of Thrones on a weekly basis as it is released in the US, increasing the likelihood that already record levels of Australian piracy of the show will grow even higher.

And just last week Greens Communications Spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, introduced a wide-ranging amendment bill to Australia’s copyright legislation, which would see a range of “fair use” and “fair go” stipulations introduced, with the intention of delivering Australian consumers a fairer copyright situation than they currently enjoy. Among other areas, the bill would prevent higher Australian prices for software, games and music, and would tackle so-called ‘Geocode’ mechanisms which allow content owners to differentiate between goods bought in Australia and outside Australia. The legislation is unlikely to pass Parliament, however.

Higher prices on content has also been an area investigated by the Federal Parliament’s IT price hike inquiry, which has broadly investigated the reasons behind Australians paying higher prices for technology goods and services, as well as content sold online through platforms such as Apple’s iTunes store.

What we’re seeing here is really interesting. For a long time, many Australians have been gaining covert access to US-based IPTV platforms such as Netflix through VPNs and other forms of IP address obscuring services, often coupled with a US credit card to pay for access online. What we’re seeing from Choice now is a real push to shove that fact in the faces of US content owners, to show them that there is a large Australian market for the products which they’re selling, and that local consumers are really tired of being treated as though they don’t matter.

Choice is right: In an age where the Internet has become the great leveller for making content available globally, it makes absolutely no sense that companies such as Netflix, Hulu and others are locking up content so that it’s only available to residents of the US. The globally addressable market is just so much larger than is available through their home countries.

Sure, it’s possible to make the argument, and I have no doubt that giant US cable TV stations such as HBO make this argument continually internally, that they can make a lot more money from selling the rights to shows like HBO on an exclusive basis to local pay TV operators such as Foxtel. However, it seems pretty clear that this model cannot survive in the long run. The addressable market is just so much larger on the open Internet than it is via closed platforms such as Foxtel, and the younger generation of consumers is much less open to closed platforms such as pay TV than older generations have been in the past.

At some point, things have to flip and the Internet will become dominant. Choice’s sentiments over the last six months have become increasingly aggressive, to reflect that fact. The group is a consumer advocate, and most consumers clearly want this change to happen and content to open up to Australians online. The situation is not going to quieten down until the international content owners realise this fact and start addressing the demands of their customers more directly.

Speaking for myself, I think perhaps what sums up my own interest as a consumer is the simple statement that I do not want to be a customer of Foxtel. I want to be a customer of HBO.

Image credit: J Miller, royalty free


  1. You dont even need a US credit card to get NetFlix (just Hulu) – I use UnoTelly to get Netflix on my two AppleTV devices and it works great even on my rubbish 6mbps DSL link.

    • PS, it’s be great if we could get HBO and ESPN using the same method, but they require and active US cable subscription before you can get at their online IPTV service.

  2. I think perhaps what sums up my own interest as a consumer is the simple statement that I do not want to be a customer of Foxtel. I want to be a customer of HBO.

    • I suck at mobile websites. Always pressing publish by mistake while on the bus! ;)

      All I wanted to say to the above quote was “nailed it” :)

      • Renai: speaking of mistakes – any chance of introducing an editing feature to the comments? Not a permanent one, but something like a 90 second editing window (The Verge has that limit which works well) so people can quickly correct mistakes.

  3. Don’t point the finger at retailers Netflix and Hulu et al; the real problem is the content owners and distributers.

    Take Time Warner, for example. TW owns a huge swathe of IP and media content, and they choose to license it to Hulu and Netflix in a contract that stipulates they must not offer the content in a jurisdiction outside of the USA, or they are in breach of said contract.

    The retailers are bound by the copyright owners contract(s), so their hands are tied. If they did not at least show an attempt to block non-US IP addresses from accessing the content, they would lose it all.

    Take the fight up with HBO, Time Warner, Sony, etc. Some have local subsidiaries that need to justify their existence in the broken ‘old world’ business model that was structured around physical media, so keep in mind that by allowing change, they are signing their own termination notice.

    • Except Netflix has stuff that they themselves are the owners of, so they could have a limited functionality site that gives non-US people access to the stuff that they themselves control.

        • Well one of the content owners has to be the first to change, and which would be better than the one with the large online distribution system?

  4. I have been using a vpn service for the last 3 years to get around geoblocking, side benefit is the security of being ‘invisible’ to hackers; I saw the last season of Game of Thrones before even Foxtel showed it on their ‘old world’ cable platform…as to younger people etc., I’m almost 50 so stop the ageist crap…back to the main argument – I also access the BBC directly, using their iPlayer to download and view EVERYTHING that Auntie (the REAL Auntie) puts up, as for ‘paying’…once a major network realizes that the embedded advertising revenue model (a la Channel4 UK) means people CAN’T skip the ads I’m sure we’ll begin to see ‘global’ networks webcasting ALL of their content for free anyways; tear down the old copyright division between the US and the UK (where the US got the Western Hemipshere and the UK got everything else – the old book publishing model it was) and allow people WHEREVER they live to consume WHATEVER they want in a visual format (none of this applies to the music industry – it’s already in its dying gasps).

  5. Actually, Hulu often says to Australains asking on their @hulu_support account on Twitter that they’re working on getting streaming rights to offer Hulu in Australia.

    However Hulu and thief executive team refuses to give an ETA elaborate on plans launch in Australia even when asked by websites or by CHOICE.

    I was often emailing former CEO Jason Kilar about these and even Simon Gallagher-a former legal executive at Hulu who has joined Netflix recently.

    getting the streaming rights takes a long time no wonder with over 2000 content partners including our own channels like the ABC and SBS. Similar thing with Netflix.

    Also both Hulu and Netflox legally have Australian domain names and trademarks registered to them but refuse to launch here all due to not having streaming rights for their vast content libraries.

  6. “Choice is right: In an age where the Internet has become the great leveller for making content available globally, it makes absolutely no sense that companies such as Netflix, Hulu and others are locking up content so that it’s only available to residents of the US.”

    It’s the correct bullet, shot at the wrong person. Happens all the time, and people miss the point.

    It’s not the content distributors that are locking up content, under their own volition. Where is the profit in that? It’s the same protestations at Foxtel (although there are other issues there).

    The source of the content, the IP owners have, for many years, operated a model of selling the same content to thousands of networks under thousands of deals. Exclusives? Geo-blocking? Regions? All trace back to the same thing – lack of rights to distribute beyond negotiated terms, and various deals to lock in more profit.

    It’s slowly changing, I’m seeing more content appear within twenty-four hours, or less, but that’s really still an exception. NBN actually has a shot at making the delivery mechanism a non-issue. Which just leaves rights.

    And it’s the latter that is consistently at the root of why content is still locked up in age-old deals and models.

  7. Just a quick aside – don’t use the term IP, there is no such thing at law as intellectual property!

    What we’re talking about here is copyright, a right granted to content creators with limits and obligations – none of which can be described as ownership.

    IP was specifically created to obfuscate the original meaning of this and should be avoided as it exists to tilt the playing field. They are copyrights, patents and trade marks, all of them very different things – and none of them can be described as property.

  8. I think the reason the internet subscription (ie. “Hulu” and “Netflix”) models work so well in America is because they have something over there for their traditional subscription TV called “competition”. We used to have a least some competition in Australia until Foxtel swallowed them up and become a monopoly. It might sound backwards but I think the only way our internet TV subscriptions will get better is if we get more competition in the traditional subscription market. I think that people want to have the choice of whether they go straight to the TV or get their content off the internet. In America they can make that choice cheaply, in Australia we can’t without paying through the nose.

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