Like most people in my generation (I refuse to call us the “M” word), I take full advantage at the sheer amount of technology at our disposal. I admit to being an absolute glutton when it comes to consuming pop culture and content. Podcasts, YouTube series, movies and T.V. shows new and old — I’m sure I’ve done irreparable damage to my attention span, because I often find myself listening to a podcast while watching a YouTube video on my laptop, as an old Netflix favourite streams on the T.V.
Chances are I am an extreme outlier — just ask my wireless provider MTS. Their “unlimited data” package barely meets the demands of my ruthless mobile data consumption, as I get warned I’m approaching their monthly 15 GB cap around the 15th of each month. According to my phone, I’ve burned through 55.8 GB of data since Feb. 23.
(How they got away with ads offering “unlimited” LTE data — recently rebranded as “flat rate data”— only to throttle you down to 3G OR LESS once you’ve reached an arbitrary cap number is beyond me, but that’s best left for a different post. )
Given my insatiable data desire, I’m constantly on the search for more access to content. When Netflix came to Canada, I was an early adopter. When I learned how to get around the regional blocks with browser VPNs, I jumped for joy.
(QUICK NOTE: If you’re still using Hola Unblocker, stop right now! There are safer options)
But regional block runarounds exist in a legal grey area. Netflix doesn’t like it, as it clearly states in it’s terms and conditions:
You also agree not to: circumvent, remove, alter, deactivate, degrade or thwart any of the content protections in the Netflix service; use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access the Netflix service
Remember those infamous anti-pirating messages that would play at the beginning of some DVDs, where they’d attempt to equate downloading to petty street crime (IT Crowd clip below for overdramatic effect)? Well the head of one of Canada’s biggest cable providers has recently come out with a similar stance against Canadians who use VPNs to access the American-version of Netflix.
During a keynote address Wednesday at the 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit, Bell Media’s new CEO Mary Ann Turcke told a story about how her daughter admitted to using a VPN to get access to American Netflix, telling the Toronto audience that her 15-year-old came up with her asking if she knew you could “hack” into U.S. Netflix and access all the shows not available to Canadians.
“She is 15 and she was stealing,” said Turcke. “Suffice to say, there is no more VPNing.”
Turcke used the anecdote to jump off to a bigger point about society’s lack of outrage over VPN, and the casual way in which Canadians have embraced the practise. A Forum Research telephone poll found that 1-in-3 English-speaking Netflix users admit to using VPNs to access region-blocked content.
““It has to become socially unacceptable to admit to another human being that you are VPNing into U.S. Netflix. Like throwing garbage out of your car window, you just don’t do it. We have to get engaged and tell people they’re stealing.”
Wow. I don’t really know where to start.
The thing that this cable company CEO is missing — or willfully ignorning — is the simplicity in which Netflix and other online streaming methods connect people to the content they want faster than ever before. We pay Netflix for their service, because it’s quick, it’s convenient and it simply works! But due to the strict copyright laws, shows and movies that we have access to through traditional media aren’t available to us.
So some brilliant minds on the Internet figure out a way to unlock American content for everyone. Yes, I want to binge watch 30 Rock and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia over and over again. I don’t understand the legal and copyright reasons why those shows and many others aren’t available north of the border, but I do understand that, with just a few quick clicks, suddenly they are.
Even if I’m watching something ‘for free’, I will always look for ways to financially support the content creators that I adore in other ways (If they come through town on a tour, sell merch, and even by buying DVDs/collectors editions ect.), because in the end I want to support the people making the shows I love. Netflix falls under that category with some of their fantastic original programming.
But the ‘middleman’ industry that Turcke represents — complete with awful customer service track records, a legacy of price gouging customers for things they don’t want, and a history of lobbying against net neutrality regulations that reflect the free and borderless online market — is the real reason why myself and thousands of others are cutting the cord and finding more convenient and cheaper alternatives to access the content we want.
Bell owns CTV, a TV channel who’s idea of creating Canadian content is Canuck versions of American reality TV shows (with shows like Corner Gas being a rare exception). Other than that, their offerings are nothing that I can’t stream online (The Daily Show, clips from Conan and the other late-night hosts), or shows that I would never bother to watch in the first place (hello Big Bang Theory). And I don’t see any shame in shunning a backwards industry that’s bottom line is trying to squeeze out every last penny they can.
Meanwhile, programmers online continue to innovate faster and better ways to stream and/or download content faster than ever. Bell can choose to remain stuck in the past, but for me and millions of other Canadians, it just doesn’t make sense to pretend that better options don’t exist online.
The reaction on social media to Turcke’s comments have been quite entertaining too, here are my favourites:
Before I wrap things up, I just wanted to reiterate some of the points I read on Twitter. Is it not super telling that the CEO of one of Canada’s biggest media companies, presumably with full access to all of Canadian cable’s offerings — including Bell’s recent attempt to cut into Netflix’s market share, CraveTV — was still more inclined to “steal” American Netflix? Instead of scolding her daughter, maybe Mary Ann could have asked what inclined her to do such?
Because if Bell’s new CEO is going to remain blind to the actual demands and desires of her own 15-year-old girl, a member of a potentially even MORE technologically addicted generation than my own, I’m feeling more and more comfortable with my decision to cut the cord and embrace the Internet.