Before leaving for Italy on vacation this past summer, I loaded up my iPad and Kindle Fire with videos to watch while abroad. My media traveled with me. I didn’t have to declare any of it at the border. It was convenient to have what I wanted to watch right there with me.
Is this media pack-and-go the future or a continuation of the past? The Internet makes a world of media available anywhere you have web access: in the home, on the plane, at the villa, and anywhere else that your wireless hub blinks green. Legal or otherwise, online video knows no borders. But your “passport” to viewing can still be denied.
International video distribution is the legacy of a time when the only way to access a movie or TV show in a foreign market was via a local distributor. To see a U.S. TV show in Italy, it had to be licensed for Italy, delivered to Italy, and broadcast by cable, satellite or over the air in Italy. Re-selling the rights to the same program market-by-market solved logistics and was good incremental business.
But thanks to the Internet and the cloud, the physical logistics have now largely evaporated. So why do the geo-restricted borders remain? This is largely in order to accommodate the legacy distribution models. Content, though accessible, is not always available.
Now add to the mix Netflix, Slingbox, Boxee, Aereo, Tivo, and other Over-the-Top and Around-the-Gate services that can reach beyond home, city, and state boundaries. Geo-restriction starts to make less sense from the perspective of the consumer. If I can watch that video from outside my home, why can’t I watch that video ANYWHERE outside my home, even in Italy, and without having to have the foresight to purchase or rent and download it first?
Obviously, there is demand for media entertainment worldwide. Travelers want to indulge their viewing habits. Expatriates want to maintain cultural connections and hear familiar voices. Foreign audiences look to Hollywood and Bollywood as vanguards of culture and style, or for simple diversion. Video (movies especially), music and games are good international travelers. The idea that all media is local or needs to be localized to a particular region is no longer the case. Media wants to be more global.
OK. So what does a future look like that keeps pace with these shifting consumer expectations and the globalization of “my” online media without relying on a network of furtive VPNs?
The first requirement is a universal ID with legs, like Visa or American Express: a billing and account authorization platform that is recognized “everywhere.” Amazon, Ebay, and Facebook have begun to set a standard for user IDs that are not stopped at the border. Localized video service providers need to plug into universal solutions.
Second, we need free markets for service providers. Like the European Union, the British Commonwealth, or the United Federation of Planets, we need to lower barriers at the border. Allow the free flow of not only travelers and expats, but also online entertainment from the providers they seek, supported by the universal IDs referenced above. How about a new interLATA type of exchange between video service providers to encourage this free trade of IDs? If I am a subscriber to a pay service in Mumbai or Berlin and I want to access that service from NYC, then a rate exchange structure could be developed between the service providers to suppor (at least) temporary access.
Just as duty-free goods available at the airport ease the access of certain products into the country, “duty free” media services available at multiple ports of call would be tempting to the traveler. Professional sports leagues have experience with the optimization of out of market rights online with multi-tier revenue models. They may clear a path for a broader shift toward globalization. As more content providers seek to establish direct relationships with their audiences, international may offer lower marginal risk to existing distribution models.
Opportunities for infrastructure providers abound to support global access to online media. Ultimately, the platform provider that has the broadest integration with the most international operators, programmers, ID and billing systems will have the advantage in providing a worldwide passport to entertainment.
The consumer benefit: less to pack.