Content owners need to tear down the Berlin Wall of access


I'm writing the week's Editor's Corner from Berlin in Germany, and one thing I noticed when I got here is that I can't access any shows on Neflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Streaming Video here in Germany--and frankly I'm a bit miffed about it because I believe I should be able to get the content I pay for anytime, anywhere, on any device.

It's as though media companies are putting up a Berlin Media Wall to keep me from accessing the content I've already paid to see.

It doesn't seem like an unreasonable expectation. It is in fact the manifestation of the mobile-cloud connection. If you store your content in the cloud, you're supposed to be able to access it from any device, any time, regardless of location.

In fact, ironically given the situation, when I logged into my Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) account, I was presented with an ad from Netflix that bragged I could get my Netflix content anywhere. Oh really? Why can't I get it on a device in Berlin.

I actually wrote to all three services asking for an explanation as to why I couldn't access any of their services while in Europe. I wondered if there was an actual law about this, an agreement with the content owners or exactly what the rationale is for blocking access. Unfortunately, neither Netflix nor Hulu have press contact information on their website and Amazon ignored my request for information.

Hulu actually displays a message suggesting possible reasons: "Hulu is committed to making its content available worldwide. To do so, we must work through a number of legal and business issues, including obtaining international streaming rights. Know that we are working to make this happen and will continue to do so. Given the international background of the Hulu team, we have both a professional and personal interest in bringing Hulu to a global audience."

Amazon let me go through the entire process of choosing a video on my iPad, then told me it couldn't display it based on my location. Nice. The Netflix app just appears to be locking up and never gets me to the point of letting me choose content.

The whole process is annoying me because I pay for the service. What difference does it make if I'm in Tuscaloosa, Timbuktu, Boston or Berlin. If I have an Internet connection and my payments are up to date, I should be able to access the shows I want to watch.

This very likely has something to do with international distribution rights, but frankly I don't care about that. I just want to access my content. It's the same nonsense that movie studios use to justify having different DVD regions. I guess they believe that having different regions will make it harder for pirates to copy their stuff. It doesn't. It just makes it harder for paying customers to play it legally wherever they happen to be.

Companies have to stop putting up road blocks for people who have paid for content, to access the content wherever they are. If they don't, they are simply encouraging users to go to sites where they aren't paying for it or finding work-arounds such using a VPN to create an IP address coming from the United States, using a browser plug-in or simply going to a pirate site. There are ways if you were so inclined.

Instead of trying to find ways to block the content, content producers need to find better ways to distribute the content.

As it stands, when these services block customers from accessing the content they want from the services they pay for, they and their big media partners are encouraging the very type of behavior they were hoping to prevent. It's stupid, short-sighted and just plain backward thinking.

To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan on a visit to Berlin many years ago--when he famously told Russian Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall--"Mr. Media Owner, tear down this wall." It's time to set my content free. - Ron