I love being from Canada — but due to licensing issues and the imaginary line I live on the wrong side of, I’m blocked from or limited in using streaming media services that my global neighbours rave about. Fortunately for those of us so geographically challenged (or those of you travelling outside the US or UK and missing your favourite music and video streams), there are services out there that try to solve this problem.
The best one I’ve come across so far, in terms of ease of use and quality of delivery, is UnoDNS.Read more
Netflix has been making big moves lately, spreading its goodness to countries around the world, making television networks nervous, and generally growing its subscriber-base despite annoying a large portion of its American users. One of its most intriguing steps forward has been to launch its own original series, Lilyhammer, starring Steven Van Zandt of Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen Fame. The series is quirky, fun, and well-written enough to keep you coming back for all eight episodes — which Netflix smartly released all at once. None of this “wait a week or month” business! That’s a thing of the past! We’re all about marathons, now, baby.
Lilyhammer takes place in Lilehammer, Norway, where mobster Frankie “The Fixer” Tagliano decides to go when he winds up in the witness protection program. Why Norway, you ask? Because Frankie has a romantic side, and fell in love with the place when he happened to catch the ’94 Winter Olympics. “Clean air, gorgeous broads…” — hey, why not, right? The ensuing culture shock, combined with Frankie’s base nature and… er… life experience, make for some interesting plot lines that I found really enjoyable. Those of you expecting a return to the Sopranos are expecting too much. This is a mobster show, and it has its dark moments, for certain, but the vibe lends itself more to black comedy than hardcore HBO. That said, there’s not a lot of censorship going on, and its definitely not something you want to watch with the little ones.
There are a lot of subtitles in Lilyhammer, but they flow in and out without distracting or annoying the viewer. There is also has some great music, which is unsurprising considering Steven Van Zandt is also the Music Director (and executive producer and sometime writer). Springsteen fans may recognize him as a member of the E-Street Band, and he uses his talent to great effect on the Netflix series.
Netflix also has a a remake of House of Cards on the docket, as well as the much anticipated Arrested Development Season Four (which my wife is simply giddy about). Personally, I find their move into original — and quality — productions to be a fantastic one. It’s another one of those ever-increasing moments in which new technology sets old media companies on its ear and potentially signifies something new and better. Well, unless the old media companies get it in their heads to destroy them, of course. That’s never pretty.
What do you think of Netflix’s move into original programming?
Recently, Netflix angered a large amount of its US subscriber-base by announcing changes to its pricing model. It used to be that, if you wanted to do the Neflix videos-by-mail thing and stream content as well, it would only cost you an extra couple of bucks per month. Now (as of two days ago, in fact), if you want both, you need to pay double — $7.99 for each service. While the Netflix move may be understandable, and part of a potentially larger plan to phase out physical delivery altogether, the customer backlash was also unsurprising — and significant.
To make matters worse for Netflix, on the very day that the new pricing came into effect, Starz, the distributor of Sony and Disney content decided not to renew their contract with Netflix. This is probably going to hurt Netflix customer relationships even more, but believe it or not, it happened as a result of Netflix attempting to preserve their pricing model, and, presumably, to keep their customers from imploding.
Netflix has been doing well, business-wise, of late. They opened up content streaming in Canada — which I use all the time, even though we don’t get the coolest content up this way — and they have plans for world internet-streaming domination that could be very viable. Unfortunately, their content and entire business is dependent on their relationship with content license owners. Starz Entertainment apparently insisted that Netflix put their content behind an additional pay-wall, making customers pay more to access it. Netflix offered them in excess of $300 million per year for the content, but that wasn’t good enough for Big Media, who initially asked for more than 10 times what Netflix paid them in 2008, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In a press release, Starz cited the usual spiel regarding “protecting the premium nature” of their brand and “preserving the appropriate pricing” of their “exclusive and valuable content.” The bottom line here, however, is that Starz holds all of the cards here. Disney and Sony content is good content. It is sought after. In a statement to Business Insider, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings maintains that it only marks 8% of their overall audience views, and that the content would have likely gone down to 5-6% of domestic views by Q1 2012 anyway, but as we all know, it takes less than 8% of pissed off people who perceive that they’ve lost something they felt they paid for to make 80%-sized noise about it.
One also has to wonder if other Big Media groups will follow Starz lead. To many of them, Netflix is likely more of an experiment that they tolerate to see if it will pay out big in the long run. Now that the dollars are coming in, naturally, they are going to want a bigger cut — one that makes them feel more like they are returning to their original business model that made them a money hand over fist — you know, before the advent of broadband and the explosion of extremely easy content piracy.
Speaking of piracy… it has been proven that consumers, by and large, are willing to pay a subscription price for content. If they weren’t, Netflix would never work; neither would Hulu Plus, Rdio, Sirius, pay-to-play MMORPGs, or any of the other premium-based multimedia providers out there. However, those prices need to be reflective of the general feel of pricing online — pricing that Apple was the baseline for with iTunes and apps taking over the online world as we know it. That is to say, the pricing needs to be low-ish. If all of the major license holders start clamouring “premium subscriptions for our content or else,” Netflix and their sizeable customer base will be threatened. When a media consuming customer base is threatened, they jump ship — and they have a tendency to land in a submarine that stealths its way into a dialect punctuated with “yo ho ho’s” and the occasional “Aaargh!” Not to beat the pirate metaphor to death or anything…
So what do you think of Starz demands for a Netflix pay-wall for their content? What about their decision to pull out? Should Netflix have given in?
If you have Netflix, you have the ability to stream a wide array of movies and television shows for less than $10 per month. The digital streaming library isn’t as impressive as their mail-out catalogue, but any way you look at it, that’s a pretty decent price for what you get. And what you get is a lot. Old shows, new shows, crazy amounts of anime, and even some favourites like Glee, the now (sadly) cancelled Stargate Universe, and 2009’s Star Trek movie are on there. Unless you live in or visit a country other than the United States, of course.
If you do happen to be on the other side of that imaginary border line, however, and you have an iOS device, you can use a VPN to access the US Netflix streaming library — and you can do it without spending a dime if you use Hotspot Shield.
UPDATE:Hotspot Shield’s iOS configuration page is currently down. I’ll keep checking to see if and when it comes back up and will update you here. You could also try other VPN options, such as Witopia, but that one comes with a $40/year price tag.
UPDATE 2: I’ve been in touch with Anchorfree support (they are the purveyors of Hotspot Shield), and have been told that they are working on the issue. Apparently, they are re-launching the iPhone version of the VPN. I will update again when I know more.
We’ve talked about Hotspot Shield before, and even though the free version forces ads down your throat, it’s pretty handy when you want to access Hulu, Pandora, or US-only website content from across the border. It’s also handy for surfing securely at public WiFi locations, and all of the other fancy things you can do with a VPN.
So why bother with an additional post just for Netflix? Because Netflix isn’t a US-only site, but it does have US-only content. This content is accessible depending on where you are, as I found out by accident when visiting a friend in Washington state a couple weeks ago. I pulled out the iPad for my kid, loaded up Netflix to keep her busy, and was immediately boggled by the amount of new content I found staring back at me. I was hoping that we Canadians had suddenly gotten a slew of new titles, but was sadly disappointed when I returned home that evening.
Out of curiosity, I tried out Netflix on my laptop with Hotspot Shield enabled. That didn’t work. Generally (unless launched via the Chrome app, oddly enough) Netflix thought that I was trying to access the US site with a Canadian account. No dice, there. Then I remembered that Hotspot Shield was also configured on my iPad… and I was pleasantly surprised that it worked!
Here’s how you can try it out
Go to the iPhone configuration page on Hotspot Shield’s website, and follow the instructions there. You’ll want to be on a separate device for this, for simplicity’s sake.
Basically, they will have you turn off your iPad’s (or iPhone’s) WiFi, and then head to Settings > General > Network > VPN > Add VPN Configuration. From there, you do the following:
Select the IPSec tab/pane
In Description, type HotspotShield
In the Server field, type 220.127.116.11
Go back to the website and click the “Get Account ID” button
Type the code that the button generated into the Account field
Type the same code into the Password field
Make sure that Use Certificate is set to OFF
In Group Name, type hss
In Secret, type hss
SAVE and then turn your WiFi back on
Once you are set up, turn on the VPN. I’ve noticed that, if you try and turn it on from the iPad’s Settings dashboard, it will fail to connect. No idea why that is, but, if you turn it on from the Settings > General > Network > VPN switch, it connects just fine. Once the VPN says it’s connected, load up Netflix and watch in wonder as the app believes that you are in the United States and loads up the US Netflix library!
Things to note
The VPN will slow you down a little bit, but not enough to affect video playback. Netflix technology is very good at figuring out how to play videos optimally, even at slower speeds.
The VPN will disconnect periodically. This is annoying, but if you are already playing a video it will not affect it. The movie or TV show will play through to the end unless you pause it and let the iPad time out. If you find that you are having difficulty launching a show, check to see if the little VPN icon is in the upper left corner of the iPad’s notification bar. If it is, then you may need to restart the app. If it isn’t, then head back into the VPN settings and turn it on again. You may want to close Netflix out completely, first to make sure that the VPN takes with the app (double-tap the iPad’s hardware button to see the running/recently running programs, press and hold Netflix till it shakes and gets an X in the corner, then tap the X to close it).
There you have it! Access to US Netflix on your iPad whether you have a non-US account, or just happen to be visiting another country. It is important to note that this trick may only last until Netflix figures a way to block it out, but HotSpot Shield is versatile. They have managed to get people back into Hulu every time they’ve been locked out so far, so it will probably be the same with Netflix.
After a (very) long wait, Netflix has finally opened up in Canada. Well, mostly, anyway. For starters, the Canadian arm of the service is streaming only, no delivery, so that that immediately cuts down the amount of possible content available to Canadians. That was just the first content cut, however… Canadian usage rights for entertainment content have always been an added difficulty with any mainstream media service, and Netflix proves to be no different. Even though the service has finally found its way to Canada, when Hulu, Pandora, and even YouTube content is still restricted, the selection of movies and television episodes have been met with groans of disappointment by many.