Restricting Digital Content Down Under

I had just sort of casually assumed without thinking much about it that one important consequence of the rise of digital media would be to radically reduce the importance of place in terms of consumption of a lot of cultural products. And I suppose it still has, but apparently to a lesser extent than I realized until I read this post from Erin Riley:

That’s right. Hulu, like many other digital content websites, is restricted by region. The site determines the country you are browsing from, based on your IP address, and simply doesn’t let you watch it if you’re outside the United States. Once again, as an Australian viewer, I was left with two options: download the show illegally (since it wasn’t available to purchase on the very limited Australian iTunes store), or pay $100 for the DVDs.

It’s not an uncommon experience for those of us who live- and access the internet- from outside the US. And it’s not just Hulu- music sites like Pandora and Spotify, and television stations also restrict their content.

It’s all about licensing. Australian channels buy the exclusive right to air a program in Australia. This exclusivity prevents the content being available online to its audience without its explicit permission. While deals between US networks and online content providers are generally easier to negotiate, because the content would only be available online after it airs, significantly later air dates in Australia mean the commercial networks risk being trumped by online channels. In some cases, shows are made available to purchase on iTunes only after their Australian air date- sometimes more than a year after they’ve aired in the US. The time constraints, though, that hardly explains the music stations: in that case, I suspect it’s a matter of the difficulties in obtaining the necessary licensing far outweighing the benefits.


Seems bad. Also note that the success corporations have in executing this kind of segmenting and curtailing of the internet has not-so-great implications for the general idea that digital media will undermine repressive states.