The last couple of years has seen an explosion of streaming services, most of them emerging in the United States. No wonder: the US remains one of the biggest sources of popular content, setting the trends of entertainment pretty much everywhere around the world. Plus, the US-based companies have perhaps the biggest disposable budget for content creation – think of the money spent on a Marvel movie as opposed to a Bollywood production, for example.
Unfortunately for most of us, though, many streaming services are only available in their “native” country – the US, in this case. And many of them are also using scripts that can detect if a user tries to connect to them through a VPN, blocking their access from the start.
Make no mistake, most of these services do want to go global – it’s not the intention that holds them back but the fragmented regulations around the world.
Different countries and territories have different regulations when it comes to entertainment products. In some countries, these rules are pretty permissive. In others, they are very strict. This is best reflected by these territories’ attitudes toward online games, for example. In some European countries, a license issued by the most permissive EU jurisdiction is accepted without problems, in others, publishers need a license (that costs them a great deal) to run a blog that teaches people how to become a high roller.
Netflix, for example, only gained entry to several markets outside the US when it committed to serving the public a certain percentage of locally produced shows. This has proven a great idea for viewers around the world – shows like the German series “Dark” or the Danish post-apocalyptic drama “The Rain” would have likely gone unnoticed without it. Other services are facing similar restrictions, have to meet similar quotas, and have to work with licensing deals that make things even more complicated.
Take HBO Max, for example. The streaming service was launched at the end of May in the US… but will only be accessible internationally some time next year. WarnerMedia, the company behind the brand, has huge licensing deals with two major media companies outside the US: Sky in the UK and Bell Media in Canada. This means that the service can’t circumvent these companies by entering their markets directly – it has to adhere to the existing content deals and distribute its shows through them.
Plus, Warner has similar content deals with a series of licensees across the world. While in the UK, all of its content is distributed via Sky, it directly owns all HBO services in Scandinavia, for example. This means that UK-based users could, in theory, circumvent the geo-block and still access HBO Max in a less-than-legal way. And the situation is equally complicated in other parts of the world, too, meaning that the global rollout of the service will be delayed at least until all the deals and regulations affecting it will be taken into account.
The situation won’t be any better for other US-based streaming services – like Peacock, for example, run by NBCUniversal or CBS All Access, run by CBS. While they will probably go global eventually – if nothing else, by striking a deal with one of the streaming services that have already done so, like Netflix or Amazon – but it may be some time before we’ll have the chance to see them without a VPN.