“We’re sorry but this content is not available in your location.”
We’ve all experienced this roadblock. It’s frustrating and annoying and, I would suggest, fatal for niche television and film projects. In the world of text content, I can usually find anything I want, at any time of day and on any device I desire. Why should online video content be any different? IP addresses (the basis for most geo-blocking) are not impassable mountain ranges. To impose geographic limitations is an artificial construct that is bound to fail. For the most motivated there is always a workaround. Geo-blocking leads to piracy or viewers who simply move on to more accessible content. This is not the basis for a viable business model. This week I look at why geographic territories/markets no longer work for most film, TV and webseries projects and what an alternative might be.
The Rationale for Geo-Blocking
In the beginning, geo-blocking (or geo-fencing) was used to address certain legal issues (especially for gambling sites where different countries have different laws about what is allowed). When it came to online video content, geo-blocking also mirrored how markets were traditionally sold and licensed. The primary reason for this, especially in television, was because this is how advertising was sold. Advertisers were usually aligned with specific geographic territories themselves for selling product and did not want to pay to reach to markets who couldn’t buy. Broadcasters needed control over who sees the content (and ads) to be able to sell access to advertisers to a specific local audience. Hence geo-blocking. However, the commercial Internet changed everything.
Geography and Internet Marketing
The Internet as a marketing and sales channel is both immense and intimate. The data available on individual online consumers allows targeting like never before. It is possible to reach people who are interested in very specific niches all over the world. For companies and advertisers this means marketing strategies can have laser-like precision, where you reach a smaller number of people but a much higher percentage buy and become connected to your brand and products. Geo-blocking works against this kind of niche targeting, artificially fragmenting it beyond the point of viability. This is true for advertisers, gatekeepers (like broadcasters and curators) and content creators who all ultimately need to reach and develop audiences/markets. Protectionist, geographic thinking belongs to an old business model. Many believe the future belongs to the way the younger generation thinks and behaves.
Instant Gratification and Youth
We live in a culture that thrives on having everything “now” – fast food, instant messaging, rewards and feedback on every action we take. As a report released by PEW Internet today confirms, people under 30 have grown up in a technology infused world that makes them especially hard wired to expect this kind of instant gratification everywhere they turn. When it comes to music or video this is also true. I hear about a cool show. I want to see it now and on whatever device I have handy. When I am geo-blocked or stopped from getting it in some way, I know how to satisfy this desire with little to no effort. A recent study at Columbia University revealed 70% of 18-29 year olds have bought, copied, or downloaded unauthorized music, TV shows or movies, compared with 46% of all adults who’d done the same. Content creators or distributors who can satisfy this desire for instant and flexible access are the ones who will end up with a viable business model, one in which geo-blocking has no place.
The Niche Market Alternative
I have hinted above that I believe the key to a successful distribution model is not artificial geographic markets, but to look to worldwide niches. So if I have a project that would appeal to piano aficionados and stop motion animation fans, I use online data to identify, find and engage these niches online. Maybe I do this directly and participate in these communities or maybe I reach out to curators in these spaces as potential superfans and advocates. If I am successful in attracting and engaging these niches there is also a good chance I can build a business model that uses micropatronage and other crowdsourced support for this and future projects.
What Do You Think?
Has the Internet made geographic markets obsolete? Do you think there is a niche market for your online video project? Do you have ideas for new business models for your film, TV, webseries and transmedia company? Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: Beyond Copyright: Micropatronage and The Future