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Why China, U.S., Canada, U.K, Australia, New Zealand all block internet content

Some very popular websites are blocking content in the United State and it is not by U.S. Government choice either. Several media companies are blocking access to online videos, thousands of them.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

Some very popular websites are blocking content in the United States and it is not by U.S. government's choice. Among them are the national television media networks, blocking access to online videos, thousands of them. If you reside in Canada, U.K, New Zealand, Australia and want to watch television shows available on the internet that originate and broadcast from in the U.S. you can't. This isn't new and such blocking has occurred on real time feeds that originate via satellite, or by cable operators that broadcast U.S. affiliates of the big U.S. networks that are allowed to transmit on Canadian cable network providers and has existed for years. An example is a Canadian broadcaster with rights to a specific U.S. television series (or movie) and a U.S. station is also broadcasting it during the same time slot, the Canadian broadcaster blocks out the U.S. affiliate version and replaces it with its own, including the commercial ad slots. Some sporting events are simply blocked due to close proximity to the U.S. border.

Over the past 3 or so years, it has expanded to include content available on the internet, all directed at programs made and produced by U.S. based networks such as  ABC, NBC, CBS, KTLA Los Angeles, and many others. The Canadian government doesn't have some billion dollar fancy firewall either. Besides, it couldn't afford to monitor something the likes of China's Green Dam anyway. So how is it blocked? I.P. addresses are assigned by country and region so it's easy to create the filter tools and profiles. When a Canadian-based I.P. address user clicks on NBC video server, it simply denies access.  The media companies are also complying with 'agreements'. If you click on just about any syndicated or current hit television aired show you'll get a response like this:

You appear to be outside the United States or its territories. Due to international rights agreements, we only offer this video to viewers located within the United States and its territories.

Free and open Internet is only when it suits an agenda or regulations and international rights agreements which cover a lot of ground and it's not always what you think it is. For some programs, it's no different than blackouts that occur for sporting events or broadcast rights as I described, which are protected revenue contracts for use of the product in a legal and reasonable policy to protect one's investment in the production for its sponsors.

But what about programs and productions long past their expiry date that originally broadcast 20, 30 and even 40 years ago? There are some cases where syndication rights including broadcast and download rights are not under any contract, yet still blocked. And the embargo is done by the owners of the programs in the U.S. The Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has allowed these agreements and enforces these types of contracts regardless when the program was originally broadcast or produced. There are archives of program that span hundreds of thousands of hours. Direct access on the internet would create new audiences for many of these programs. It could be very easily argued that such open use of these programs, hurt current productions. Syndication is the dream producers have in order to be successful, where the easy money is. So what is stopping any of the big U.S. networks from broadcasting via the internet new products that have NOT been picked up or contracted by any Canadian, U.K. etc. broadcast company. When new competition networks began expansion during the mid 1990's, the demand for older programs was high because they offered low-cost syndication rights. As these broadcast entities faded so did the demand for the older material. Some of the bigger networks began to make them available online, which has kick started a whole new generation of IPTV users in the U.S. and wants to be able to broadcast worldwide. What's blocking them from doing so? Legacy agreements with affiliates and syndication rights agreed to hold back various programs. Some of the earliest syndication agreements that included Internet publishing rights were in the early 1990's.

Since the 1970's, political and culture groups lobbied for protection in each country. There is an important need to protecting culture, along with their respective television industry production companies. The entertainment industry in each country dwarfed the size, capabilities and production funding that their U.S. counterparts and colleagues had access too. In Canada they lobbied federal government to reach specific agreements regarding import and export rules and thus many of the programs simply are not available across international borders unless under contract by a Canadian owned broadcaster licensed and taxed at appropriate importation rates.  If the industry deregulated, U.S. entities and programs using networks that would built or acquired, would create unfair competitive service advantages in Canada, which would not be offset by export of programs on the equal terms and thus with the flood coming from the United States, the capital for local film and television entertainment would dry up and eliminate the local industry. These same fears exist in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and similar efforts were successful in negotiating agreements along with different technical standards ensuring difficult grey market export speculators.

The new fear is that traditional broadcast service will have significant migration and in some cases, but only for internet users. Small Independent film production companies are doing exactly that. Just like consumers have shown clear and steady signs of eliminating their home local phone service migrating to their mobile and Internet service for voice services, many are considering dropping their satellite or cable TV supplier for Internet TV based service either as on demand streamed or download and store.

A few media companies do not have such terms embedded in their syndication contracts or have no export restriction agreements. PBS and Fox can be viewed in many parts of the world. I watched House, which ironically is made by NBC's Universal Productions on Fox.com in real-time in HD on the Internet. I regularly watch NHL hockey games live online.

General Electric is currently trying to sell NBC to Comcast - one of America's largest Internet providers. Perhaps NBC may wind up to be content that is only available to Comcast Internet subscribers, let alone the rest of the United States and abroad. Internet content exclusivity will also be at the forefront of discussion, let alone filtering and blocking. Some have argued that it will never happen and simply point to the AOL-Time Warner disaster. That specific deal may have not worked, but eventually a management team will make cable, internet and production film media very well combined with Internet commerce. 

The Internet battleground is becoming more complex to understand regarding film and entertainment and will be for a long time to come regarding content property rights, subsidies, profit sharing, syndication rights and how it is broadcast. There are a few black sheep out there. 

The rules appear to be different for television and movie productions compared to radio and music. Internet users can surf any of the nations on the list above, can easily access and listen to any live broadcast of a radio station in the U.S. and vice versa, many of whom are owned by the same big multimedia nationals. Music CD's can play on any player, regardless of where it's made. DVD's which producers attempted to protect against intellectual property loss, which are easily hacked, are still manufactured with region codes (along with different formats NTSC and PAL), again for tax and industry protection purposes. Over time these technical distinctions are likely to disappear. And now we come full circle and focus on China...

These types of agreements have been amicably accepted throughout the western world, for now. China has observed and recorded every treaty and 'culture' agreement signed. Governments, whom have defended these agreements for decades, are doing so behind very thin glass walls. One could interpret the tint is imitating light green...

This is particularly true for those who have allowed such content to be blocked for trade reasons based on culture and industry protection. It's 2010, it's the new world and the Internet can be anything and everything we want.  The high tech industry stumbles into China and grows rapidly. Its growth exceeds all historical norms recorded for any industry. In 2009 the global economy crumbles, except in China*. Every global high tech multi-national was too busy growing in China to criticize or be concerned with respects to trade, internet content restrictions and blocking data and of course the number one trump card, human rights.

*China has been hit with the recession. Millions of people are out of work and the government is spending billions of dollars in economic stabilization and recovery projects. The global recessions impact on China has been less severe compared to G-20 nations. As tensions escalate, some politicians are beginning to realize President Hu Jintao has some very big rocks at his side. The Aussies, Brits, Kiwi's and Canuck houses are delicate.

Is there another possible reason that this is happening?

The winner would be U.S. because the trade agreements with all parties (NAFTA, GATT) and would not lose anything in the process. No agreement will stream across the Pacific Rim anytime soon...

China in the foreseeable future will block most western programs. Many movies are allowed to be played in Hong Kong in theatres, because they are taxed upon viewing the film.  The red herring is blocking unsuitable and illegal propaganda. Think about it, how are you going to collect a tax on streaming media from a foreign based (and delivery method) and collect those fees? Millions of times per hour and ensure that the exporter is appropriately apportioned their revenue. It's possible to do, but it will take unique proxy servers, applications, and in a sense, a middleware software component that spies on the feed that the tariff will be applied to. Does the technology applied sound familiar?

Tariffs and currency exchange are the real issues. Ironically, the longer China keeps U.S. content out of its country, the longer the other western nations can keep U.S. media companies out of their home countries too for the same reasons. In Canada there's no question that American television programs and productions, if allowed unrestricted access to the market would crush Canadian based equivalents and Canadian owned television services (studios, local affiliate stations) would probably be acquired by U.S. parents quickly and consolidated into U.S. operations.  And what mechanism would be applied to applying a tariff's to from imported video that doesn't violate privacy laws in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and still work? Proxy servers are one method.

The internet is creating for some strange bedfellows, even if they aren't intentional. How ironic is it that the world has called China's Internet firewall, and mandated PC software, the Green Dam and it is the world's largest holder of U.S. currency reserves by a wide margin. The commonwealth nations will likely continue to maintain a quiet presence, hoping to leave well enough alone. China is the world's largest economy, but is not engaged in ACTA treaty negotiations and challenged with existing WTO obligations. Someone kicked a rock, cracking one of the low lying windows and as is already known, the negotiatons are a pain.

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