Apple TV, VPN, and Geoblock Spiel

Anyone who is old enough to live through DVD era of human history and before that Paleolithic VHS period would recall something called region locks. It is an ancient ritualistic practice where contents holders would artificially divide the regions and lock the consumers out from playing them outside of said region. Historians believe the practice was to sell the same movie at a different price in a different market. I call it ritualistic, because with enough consumers agonizingly annoyed, most DVD players were willing to appease the buyers by dropping the region lock. Not to mention some consumers went the way of pirates, that is, instead of paying different rates for the same movie. And it seems the recent news herald Apple is joining the league.

In this current age of internet, what contents holders refuse to accept is the one truth well acknowledged, that consumers with fat wallet, must be in need of a quick way to spend them. Blockbusters would not have made its name if it had ‘Blockbusters Bridge Keepers’, and only after answering 3 questions you would be allowed to rent a movie. We want instant gratification of going in, grabbing the movie, and start watching. Every second wasted for managerial bureaucracy is just another hidden fees to the receipt, something we pay, but only begrudgingly. This became their own undoing for Blockbusters.

Convenience, or ease of access, is a tool often misused in the scopes of digital contents. Digital contents holders argued, back in 2000s, only with sufficiently advanced rights management tool can digital contents markets be indistinguishable from physical medium market. What they didn’t realize is the tools never stopped at trimming the fat —it started digging for the pound of flesh. These tools started as instruments to retain control of contents distribution, and most of them poured its efforts into profiteering to the point of pure absurdity —of how many times it can be played, on what device it can be played, for how long will the file can be kept, and so on. They asked, why customers hate “paying” for their movies, instead of the rather obnoxious question, why consumers wouldn’t fall their pricier product with deficiencies. It is the context that defines the behavior. If contents holders demanded digital formats be controllable as much as physical formats, formats with limitations branded into the medium itself, then it is no wonder, when those hidden figures are exposed and translated over to digital contents, consumers simply wouldn’t find it appealing as much.

Consumers generally don’t consult a lawyer before entering Blockbusters. They enter, because it is more convenient to browse through movies. The same context applies to the same behavior on the internet. They chose to pirate, because it was more convenient. The pure pirates among them, whilst not a small faction, were exaggerated in number. Netflix is the new king of the hill for this reason. It’s more convenient to stream through Netflix and Disney+. Of course, this comes with the big fat if. Apple seems to have gotten the wind of this. Consumers were willing to buy region-free DVD players. Consumers are now willing to pay for VPNs to unblock the streaming services. For Apple, this means opening up VPN apps on its Apple TVs.

Geoblocking, or geolocking, is effectively the swallow question for streaming services, minus the Monty Python gem. The bridge is only as good as people crossing it. Because we know Arthur has to cross the bridge, we can find comedy in Arthur solving the riddle. Then let us ask ourselves, does the quest of seeking movies lie past the geoblocks? Are we ordained by god, or by strange women lying in ponds, to seek the movies and TV shows past the geo-restricting bridge? No, the value of an internet service comes not from divine providence, for that is not a basis for a content distribution. The value lies in the demand for contents itself, or as Dennis puts it, the mandate from the masses, and a service is a mere bridge —a bridge amongst myriad of other modes of contents delivery.

Is it not obvious people are after the contents themselves, not the mean of acquiring? And, as a platform, if a service refuses to serve, people will get their fix one way or the other. Legality aside, the path of least resistance prevails, be it may driving to a nearby Blockbusters or simply pirating. What the new era of streaming services have enabled for the contents holders is to install toll booths. Asking stupid questions before the bridge, such as “are you really from <Country of Origin>, and only <Country of Origin>, nothing but the <Country of Origin>” will be countered by simple “I am”, at the ridiculous expense of hiring bridge keepers. No traffic means no commerce for the bridge, and this hurts business. If you keep asking the famous swallow question and won’t take Arthur’s reply for an answer, you don’t get to make neither the comedy nor the money.

Remember, even in Monty Python, and if Arthur walked around the chasm in the face of impossible riddle, it would still be a comedy gold. It’d be cheating and cost a precious business opportunity for the bridge keeper, but it is still a valid comedy nonetheless. Between commerce and involuntary philanthropy, I expect entrepreneurs to take the sides for the interest of the business. Apple certainly seems to have made its decision.

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