Although the internet has started to increase in usage over the past 10 – 15 years the actual way it is used has only changed dramatically within the past 5 to 10 years at a stretch.
When we consider how infantile websites that we use on a regular basis actually are it brings home that the consumer use and the way in which the internet is used is very much a new thing. Consider that Twitter was launched only in 2006 and wasn’t popular until years later, Facebook has only just marked it’s 10th anniversary and for years was dwarfed in size and user base by other such sites like Myspace.
While it is extremely clear that how we interact with real life friends and online acquaintances has only started to come to fruition in recent years the same can be said for online content and by online content I mean video and live video. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s it was possible to view grainy “webcam” imagines of exotic locations which updated ever hour, if you you were lucky every few minutes.
Even as recently as 2003 it was more of a novelty to see such images with sites such as the Boston College Webcam being made available. Stop to consider this was just over 11 years ago and the page which is still visible now shows just how much technology has changed and not only that the speed at which content can be delivered.
One of the biggest boons for online video content such as live streaming or even recorded streaming is the ever increasing home internet speeds that are available. Not only was the “webcam” a rather amazing sight my own experience of having 500 Kb/s just 11 years ago was considered quite fast for home broadband speed in the UK, fast forward to today and a top end package of 120 Mb/s is common. Over 60 times as fast and for a price which has only marginally increased over the years. Industry leading Netflix suggest a 4 Mb/s connection speed to stream their content in HD. As you can appreciate we are now well over requirement to stream good quality video online.
When Youtube first arrived on the scene it was a magnificent moment for those of you who have been using the internet pre-video, it changed the way in which we use the internet and allowed its use to become more entertainment orientated and less educational and research based. Since the publishing of the very first Youtube video, Me at the zoo by one of the sites co-founders, internet video streaming and live streaming has exploded.
When sites such as Youtube were first launched very little consideration to content rights was considered, that is not to say that you could find full length movies on any such public commercial site but the way in which the video and music industry controlled such publication was something little considered at the time. Fast forward a few years and big industry realised that the way to control their content was to restrict viewing, this often lead to restricted viewing in specific countries but not in others. Past a few more years and each entertainment industry in each country started to jump on the band wagon.
No longer was content restricted to viewing in certain countries but actually residing in a certain country could cut out huge slices of video due to local entertainment bodies concerned about loss of revenue and staggered release dates. One of the most extreme examples of this can be seen in German speaking countries in which many videos, especially that contain commercial music are restricted due to Youtube being unable to come to an agreement with local entertainment body GEMA.
While general video sites flourished the advent of online TV stations and sites showing TV shows started to appear towards the end of 2000. 2007 saw the launch of both BBC iPlayer in the UK and Hulu in the United States. Both similar sites which stream online TV shows from their respective networks. iPlayer showing BBC shows with Hulu slightly different airing shows from a selection of US networks who are involved in the site. As with Youtube both sites and others similar restrict content viewing to those who reside in the country of origin, most likely due to licensing arrangements and also cost factors.
The way in which these sites restrict viewing is usually down to the location of the user and by this the site uses one of the only technical means available and opts to restrict viewing based on IP address. Each internet connection has its own IP address which allows the internet to function, similar to a phone number it enables content to be able to reach the required destination for the person who requested it.
IP addresses are assigned in blocks and it is generally easy to determine at least with home connections which country that IP address has originated from. VPN use in recent years has lead to a massive increase in online content being made available in any country no matter what restrictions are in place. By way of accident taking on the IP address of a VPN server in a country local to the content streaming sites allows bypassing of any restrictions and so viewing of geo-restricted content becomes available.
Bypassing any such restrictions is somewhat of a grey area and is generally considered a bonus rather than a dedicated feature of a VPN service, although there are some providers who do market this directly. As of now there have been no repercussions directly to end users for bypassing such restrictions and due to the nature of the privacy and security a VPN inherently allows it is unlikely that we will see any in to the future. Recently the site Hulu has attempted to thwart such bypassing by blocking a large range of IP addresses supplied by many of the better known VPN providers. Although such tactics work in the short term it is unlikely to solve the issue in the long run.
VPN use has opened up a world of TV shows to users around the world and with speeds ever increasing and the quality of speeds being available via VPN providers themselves it is unlikely that we will see any slow down in those who choose to stream content from overseas TV service providers in such a manner.
While it may be frowned upon by TV executives the type of content available in the majority of cases is freely viewable online in the source country without subscription or cost to the home country user and so by watching it outside the source country it appears to be doing little if any damage revenue wise. The only exception to the rule is the BBC in the UK and if watching BBC iPlayer live while the show is being aired on standard TV you would be required to own a TV licence, how this pertains to users outside the UK and how the law would be applied is yet to be seen and again unlikely.
Image courtesy of Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net