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September 14, 2017

Location Piracy: Stand and Deliver

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Is location piracy contributing to loss of cultural identity? David Briggs, chairman and co-founder of Canadian digital rights firm GeoGuard, expresses fear that local content is being squeezed by the industry giants.

As global streaming services expand their reach internationally, people (especially young people) are watching more and more foreign content, most of it American. Concerns about outside cultural influences permeating domestic media are hardly new or unique to one country, but of growing concern is the lack of local content reaching young viewers. This has broadcasters in smaller media markets like Canada and Denmark troubled, and not just about the prospect of losing market share; they’re concerned about the longterm impact the displacement of local content will have on their nation’s cultural identity.

Locally produced content passes on culture, values and customs unique to the region it’s made in; absorbing this information is an informal method of socialisation every generation that’s grown up watching television has experienced, regardless of geographical location. Since the rise of OTT streaming services, the prevalence of location piracy has made difficult the task of getting youth to watching local content. So what is location piracy, and how is it pushing local content out of the millennial media diet?

Location piracy is like a form of copyright infringement where content only licensed for broadcast in some jurisdictions is illegally accessed outside those jurisdictions. An all-too-familiar example of this is a House of Cards fan in, say, Dubai, using a VPN to access the American Netflix library. She subscribes to the UAE Netflix, but illegally accesses US Netflix because she doesn’t want to wait for the latest season of her favourite show to arrive in her local Netflix library (Netflix announced on the US release date for season 5 that it would be available in the MENA region in 30 days). Aside from undercutting business models and violating intellectual property laws, this practice is problematic because the UAE Netflix library likely has content produced in the UAE that the US library does not. This goes on all around the world, and in Denmark broadcasters are very aware of their diminishing influence over the next generation.

With traditional television delivery methods like satellite and cable, it was easy for broadcasters, production studios and policymakers to ensure young media consumers were presented with an equitable ratio of global/local content to choose from. Now that content providers deliver via the internet, it’s next to impossible to guarantee viewers get exposed to local content unless they’re only accessing regional services like Danish Netflix instead of foreign ones like US Netflix. At least then the Danish government and content providers can mandate that Netflix shows a certain amount of Danish programming on its Denmark service.

The mood in Danish broadcasting resonates globally. Canada is an apt case study of why local content is so important. Long before television, the biggest threat to Canada was Manifest Destiny: a fear that the US would keep expanding its territory until it eventually took over Canada. Decades later, a natural extension of this fear was that Canadians would lose their cultural identity if their airwaves were completely taken over by US programming, their cultural reproduction would be swallowed whole by a more powerful American media market. To this day, the federal government mandates that Canadian MVPDs show a certain amount of Canadian-made content. More and more countries are seeing how important it is to defend their national cultural fabric from being completely replaced with something different.

Broadcasters in small markets already oversaturated with American media content see themselves as guardians of their cultural heritage. The immense challenge ahead of them is steep: trying to re-establish a strong presence in the lives of their children to ensure their culture lives on in a future where content from around the world is streaming online. How can this be accomplished? Fighting location piracy would be the first and biggest step. Strong geolocation solutions that block low-level circumvention mechanisms like popular VPNs and DNS proxies ensure computers and their operators are only able to access their regional service, which still has an extensive selection of American and other foreign media content. But that service will also feature content produced locally and consequently, local culture as well.

Via Rapid TV News