Rights holders move to block Australian access to US Netflix

More than a quarter of Australian media subscribers use Netflix through VPNs, but that may soon change as local rights holders move to have the US version of the service blocked.

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Netflix

As Australia prepares for the long-rumoured arrival of Netflix, rights holders are pushing to have the US version of the service blocked in Australia.

Currently, more than a quarter of Australians with a paid-content media subscription are using Netflix, circumventing the geoblock on the US-based service by using a VPN. However, the head of the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association said rights holders are looking to bring this to an end when Netflix launches a dedicated Australian service.

Simon Bush, CEO of AHEDA -- the industry organisation that represents the home entertainment divisions of companies including Warner Bros., Roadshow and Universal Sony Pictures, as well as Foxtel -- said that while the members of the organisation have not asked AHEDA to lobby on the issue in any official capacity, "some of the member companies individually are doing that".

"I don't know what Netflix will do around geo-blocking people using VPNs and international credit cards, but presumably it would fit the business model -- if they've got rights cleared in Australia...and [they're] going to the effort -- that they would want Australians to access their locally-based service," he said. "That is just a common sense assumption."

While Bush declined to name the specific companies involved, he conceded that "discussions" to lock Australians out of accessing the US version of Netflix "are happening now".

Netflix currently has no major blocks in place for Australians seeking to access its content through a VPN, but Bush's comments seem to indicate that rights holders may bring Australian geoblocking into any negotiations for local content streaming rights.

However, Bush said rights holders were not just waiting until Netflix's Australian arrival to take their case to the company.

"I know the discussions are being had...by the distributors in the United States with Netflix about Australians using VPNs to access content that they're not licensed to access in Australia," he said. "They're requesting for it to be blocked now, not just when it comes to Australia."

Netflix's arrival in Australia is sure to change the local media landscape, no matter what form it takes and what content it makes available. But while conceding he didn't think "pricing and availability is the issue it might have been a couple of years ago," Australian consumers were still likely to make comparisons between a local Netflix service and what's available overseas.

"What I think will be fascinating is when they do launch, and if it's 1 cent more than the US service and has one piece of content less than the US service, there will be people up in arms, but I guarantee both of those things will likely happen," he said.

As a representative of the rights holders in the piracy debate, Bush reiterated comments made by Quickflix CEO Stephen Langsford, saying that the local industry would welcome the official launch of Netflix in Australia.

"We welcome any legitimate service over the people going to a pirated, unpaid, illegal service," he said. "The price is up to the service provider and the distributors to negotiate the rights, but whatever price it is, that's fine. The bottom line is...we want to see people choosing legal options rather than illegal."

However, Bush did not echo Quickflix's insinuation that accessing Netflix via a VPN was illegal.

"It's semantics though," he said. "Using a VPN is not illegal; Netflix knowingly making access available to Australian customers would be in breach of their rights."

"I do feel for Quickflix, I've got to say. At the end of the day it's hard for an Australian start up to compete against these global powerhouses. But good luck to them."

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