Death knell for traditional TV as Netflix goes global in 190 countries

7 Jan 2016

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings at CES 2016

The disruption of TV’s dominance continues as Netflix yesterday announced that it is now available in 190 countries around the world.

This is a substantial increase from the 60 countries Netflix has served up until this point.

“Today you are witnessing the birth of a new global internet TV network,” said Hastings on stage at CES.

“With this launch, consumers around the world – from Singapore to St Petersburg, from San Francisco to Sao Paulo – will be able to enjoy TV shows and movies simultaneously – no more waiting.

“With the help of the internet, we are putting power in consumers’ hands to watch whenever, wherever and on whatever device.”

‘Today you are witnessing the birth of a new global internet TV network’

While largely available in English in most new countries, Netflix added Arabic, Korean and Simplified and Traditional Chinese to the 17 languages it already supports.

However, Netflix will not be available in China for a while yet. Nor will it be available in Crimea, North Korea or Syria due to US government restrictions on US companies in those countries.

The move is good news for internet users but troubling for the global TV industry, which has to compete in a new world of smartphones, tablet devices, Chromecasts and Apple TVs.

TV is dead, long live TV

The days of the linear TV schedule are numbered – heck, even the traditional family gathering around the TV is challenged – and many TV providers like Sky, the BBC and RTE have risen to the challenge with catch-up TV.

The winner of this disruption is clearly Netflix at present, which has used the revenues from its subscriptions to create its own original series, including Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Narcos, Sense8, Grace and Frankie and Marco Polo, as well as building up a catalogue of licensed TV shows and movies.

But while the linear schedule of following a timeline set by programmers is threatened, this is, in fact, a golden age for TV content and you can argue that there is greater creativity going into creating TV series and documentaries than ever before. The Making a Murderer documentary, for example, was all the rage over the Christmas season.

So, the winners from the death or disintermediation of linear TV are the viewers and the content creators. For Netflix has certainly helped kickstart a golden age for content.

Netflix will have to wage a bigger war with the VPN proxy pirates

The Netflix story is extraordinary on many levels. It began life in the US as a provider of DVDs in the post. Under the leadership of Reed Hastings, the company quickly foresaw the rise of the internet and the looming death of DVDs as a main conduit for watching movies and box sets and pioneered streaming.

Very quickly, Netflix became the go-to place to receive movies via a clever subscription model and in most countries where it is active it accounts for a large proportion of bandwidth consumed by users.

When Netflix launched in Ireland, almost four years ago to the day in 2012, it was apparent through interviews with Hastings and content chief Ted Sarandos that in every country Netflix launches it faces a big battle in terms of getting the legal rights to content. This requires a lot of negotiation and, no doubt, at this stage Netflix has created a template as robust as its cloud architecture to handle it.

But, nevertheless, when it first launched in Ireland users bemoaned the lack of content compared with the US version, even though the service has improved greatly over time and the pace of new content being introduced has increased steadily.

But already it was obvious that power users were cottoning on to the use of VPNs or proxy pirates as a way of accessing Netflix in other countries. Netflix has half-heartedly endeavoured to ban proxy pirates and VPN users but, like weeds in a garden, they keep popping up.

As Netflix goes live in 190 countries worldwide, it has taken on a huge challenge in ensuring access rights for all kinds of content and some countries may not have enough, and no doubt users will look to VPNs and proxy pirates to get access to the content available in bigger countries with bigger populations.

This actually could turn out to be a headache for Netflix, which is contractually obliged to rightsholders to keep the proxy pirates at bay. It could also turn out to be something of an infrastructural headache if VPNs usher crowds of people from around the world to the servers hosting the US or UK Netflix, for example.

But something tells me Reed Hastings has thought of all this already.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years