Last month, Netflix announced that they were going to be expanding their streaming service globally, making it possible to subscribe to Netflix from nearly every country in the world.
Most Netflix subscribers are at least somewhat aware that while a certain movie or TV show might be available in one country, complicated licensing agreements make it nearly impossible for streaming services to keep consistent libraries as they expand globally. In fact, some streaming services find it so complicated that they don’t even bother. YouTube is a great example of such, as content restrictions can limit where a video can be played while Hulu barely attempts to grow internationally due to such limitations.
But one might believe that if Netflix presented a show as a “Netflix Original” that the service would be able to make it available globally, they own the rights after all, right?. But it turns out this isn’t really the case, and the reasons behind it are rather confusing.
Most people are unaware that Netflix actually doesn’t own some of its best performing original shows, but just merely owns the rights to distribute such shows. ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’ are two prime examples of this. The layperson’s translation here is basically Netflix owns the rights in specific regions to stream these shows, but there are plenty of countries around the world where this isn’t the case. For example, Sony actually owns the rights to distribute ‘House of Cards’ in dozens of countries where Netflix wasn’t operating prior to their big expansion announcement.
Here’s a sample list of countries where ‘House of Cards’ isn’t currently available on Netflix for a variety of reasons:
- New Zealand
- Sweden [edit: we received an email from a reader notifying us that House of Cards IS streaming in Sweden, we missed this during our search]
As far as we can tell, House of Cards isn’t actually available in most of Europe at this time, with the UK being one exception.
So what’s Netflix planning to do about all of this? Last year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings stated to Bloomberg that the service intends to be more strategic with their ownership rights, planning to make sure they own the actual shows and movies they create and produce as originals. If this is the case, we can expect far more consistency from their content library as global subscriber numbers continue to grow.
Netflix recently announced their intention to start proactively blocking VPN services in order to appease rights holders of the content they stream. While Netflix likely doesn’t care at all as to whether or not users use a VPN to access other regional content libraries, the owners of such content likely do, and we’re guessing have increased the pressure placed on Netflix to put a halt to such roundabout methods.
With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine Netflix hoping to eventually somehow create a consistent library completely location-agnostic. But this is no easy task as distribution rights are extremely complicated and antiquated.
Netflix is likely going to find itself up against a difficult foe in international content rights, but it hasn’t stopped them thus far. Maybe, just maybe, one of the world’s biggest streaming services is the hero we need to change the way entertainment companies do business.