This time, Netflix's crackdown seems to be for real
I'm back on Netflix US, but it's getting harder and harder each time.
In this instance, it took my $US5-a-month provider seven days to get back to my support request. It's swamped help service took seven days to eventually came back with some secret IP addresses not listed on its website. They came with a 10-step setup guide.
I'd been on the verge of cancelling my Netflix account because I prefer Netflix US or UK to the more thinly populated NZ version (and note Commerce Minister Paul Goldsmith says no one is going to get prosecuted for watching Netflix US).
I'm guessing others have already chucked in it.
Back in January, when Netflix announced yet another "crackdown" on people who use unblocker services to access its US service from another country, I was happy to use inverted commas.
The streaming video giant said it was using new technology this time, but on past service — and comments from experts and (historically) Netflix' own execs about the Wac-a-Mole impossibility of stamping out unblockers — I was happy to write it was just another example of Netflix paying lip service to rights holders.
Consumer's Hadyn Green told NBR he thought it would fizzle out in a month. I nodded along. Beyond the technical challenges, I thought Netflix wouldn't want to put revenue from global users at risk, or lose ground to the likes of Hulu and Amazon Prime.
Well, we were both wrong, along with a bunch of other commentators and experts.
Netflix' crackdown has only got more intense as the days and weeks have worn on. At first, unblocker services managed to reconfigure within hours, then stay up for days. Now it takes them days to skirt the latest Netflix block, and the fix is sometimes only good for hours.
Some VPN services seem like they're ahead of the game. Nord is constantly bragging. But it doesn't offer a smart DNS service of the type that makes it easy for non-technical users to feast on Netflix US.
It's hard to get a full picture. At Consumer, Mr Green tried to enlist subscribers to compile a chart of which unblocker services were getting hit, and when. But it proved too much of a moving target and he abandoned the effort. But anecdotal evidence points to increasingly assertive, and increasingly intense, Netflix crackdown efforts.
And — whether egged on by Netflix itself or rights-holders — PayPal has also begun to withdraw service from unblockers. However, so far this has had limited to no effect given Visa and MasterCard are happy enough to maintain service. Unblocker sites are never fussy about your card's country of origin.
My guess is Netflix wants to be seen as a good corporate citizen, the better to position itself to win global rights for content. That's a good long-term strategy. But "long term" is very much the operative phrase. Sky TV here has cleverly wrapped up rights to a lot of key content for at least five years.
In the future, Netflix' bid to become a truly global channel will be a major threat to Sky.
For today, it's a bonus to the pay TV broadcaster and its Neon streaming video on-demand service (which, in timely fashion is getting an upgrade to HD and an Apple TV app as Sky looks to press its advantage).
Well, potentially, the question remains whether New Zealanders fed up with fighting to access Netflix US turn to Neon, meekly sign up to Netflix NZ, turn to still-accessible US-based services like Hulu or Amazon Prime, or simply return to piracy.