As the make-up of the general population changes, the North American media market is becoming increasingly diverse. It’s now essential for broadcasters to offer channels/packages built around cultural content from specific countries (like India) or regions (the Middle East). Produced abroad, this content is licensed for broadcast by local MVPDs in Anglo-America (and Europe) hoping to get the business of expats longing for a taste of home. Primarily from Asia, South Asia, and Latin America, expat communities in the U.S. and Canada wield an increasing amount of purchasing power and market influence. But as broadcasters battle for pre-eminence among this expanding customer base, many expats have discovered ways to tap into illegal streams through third-party apps downloaded onto set-top boxes.
A set-top box (STB) in the context of streaming is similar to the cable box a telco would provide you with; it receives a signal, converts it, and then displays video onto a TV. A cable box, however, receives signal through a cable jack; content gets transmitted to an STB via Internet connection. STBs are relatively inexpensive pieces of hardware that can be bought online or in-store for as little as $100. Media player apps such as Kodi, Roku, and JadooTV are downloaded (pre-installed) onto the STB in order to view and access content. The main function of media player applications like Kodi, Roku, Jadoo, etc. are to provide access to licensed content through official streams like Netflix and Crackle. But third-party apps can be downloaded too, some of which provide unauthorized access to geo-restricted content or free access to paid content.
In many cases there are legal options through which expats can immerse themselves in the latest K-drama, telenovela, or Bollywood blockbuster without breaking the law. Aside from “multicultural” cable packages, viewers have the option of accessing streaming services for all types of content: DramaFever and Kocowa for Korean content, YuppFlix, WatchSunTV, My Indian TV, and Hungama Play for Indian cinema, Televisa for Hispanic favourites. In cases where the content is geo-restricted, a Kodi, Roku or Jadoo box connected to the Internet through a VPN easily circumvents those geo-restrictions. Increasingly referred to as ‘geo-piracy,’ the practice has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks: a Mexican judge upheld a lower court ruling banning the sale of Roku boxes in the country over piracy concerns, and in the U.K. the Intellectual Property Office warned “illicitly adapted set-top boxes” were a threat to anti-piracy efforts in a nation where Kodi is a popular way to watch Premier League football for free.
Whether it’s a Brit in New York watching BBC iPlayer, a Mexican in Boston streaming Televisa Deportes, or an Indian in Singapore tuning in to Zee TV, the exclusivity of the licenses for content so high in demand is useless if a viewer can turn on their TV and watch everything they want for free. All it takes is a set-top box and a VPN to do so; geo-restrictions and paywalls won’t be effective unless they are backed by technology to combat location spoofing of all kinds.