Jan 132015
 

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The other week there was a bit of a hoo-ha online about how Netflix were allegedly blocking VPNs from accessing their American content. I know my Dad will be reading this, so let me explain about VPNs. Firstly, it is a VERY different thing to a VPL! Netflix, and various other sites, have methods in place so that you can access certain content if you’re from a certain region – the BBC do this with iPlayer – try accessing it while you’re in another country; you can’t (easily). A VPN (Virtual Private Network), without getting into to much detail, essentially ‘tricks’ a website (or service) into thinking you’re from another country. This allows users from the UK to view the American content on Netflix – something that a lot of people do.

If you didn’t know, I run a service called New On Netflix UK and New On Netflix USA which posts every new addition to Netflix UK/USA, expiry dates and loads of other stuff. They’re rather popular, the UK one in particular. I won’t bore you with stats but they get busy and a lot of people use them. When the allegations were published it hit a lot of news sites and I got contacted by an Irish journalist who wanted to ask my opinion about the different content between UK and US services as well as the VPN stuff. He sent some questions, and I wrote a humongous 1,580 word essay in response. The article was published earlier today on The Daily Edge and used only 162 of them… So, I thought I’d share my full response in case you were interested!


NB – I know we’re referring to ‘Netflix UK & Ireland’ as just ‘UK’ but there are still a small number of differences between the UK and Ireland’s content; not a huge difference, but I understand there are a few.
Is there a significant difference in the quantity of shows between the US and UK versions of Netflix?

Number of titles* as at 9th Jan ‘15:

  • Netflix USA: 7,216
  • Netflix UK: 2,728

For up to date figures see: http://netflix.maft.uk/stats#ahistorictotals and http://netflixusa.maft.uk/stats#ahistorictotals

*Titles, in my use of the word, refers to a single movie or an entire series. Eg 60 episodes / 4 seasons of a TV series is a single title.

There’s quite a big difference in numbers but you need to take into account number of subscribers in each region. The USA has more users and therefore more income to spend on content, the UK has less subscribers so Netflix have a smaller budget for their UK content. In the Netherlands, which is newer still than the UK service (I.e. less subscribers), they only have around 1000 titles.

This actually brings us onto one of the main arguments for using VPN, but I’ll get to that shortly.

 

Do we often see people using a VPN to access the US version? If so, why? Is it considered better?

I know a number of people who use various different VPNs for accessing the regions, not just the US service, there’s also Canada, Latin America, Netherlands and more. Each has different content. Personally I don’t use them, but this isn’t from any moral standpoint; quite simply, neither myself or the kids have ever been stuck for something to watch on the UK service.

Most people will say that they use VPN because the American Netflix is better. I would disagree; ‘better’ is a very subjective phrase. Certainly, they are different but one person’s ‘better’ is another person’s ‘worse’. The American service may seem ‘better’ to some because it has some newer films like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ – but that makes the assumption that newer films are better… They’re not always, and there are some older, more obscure films that are absolutely fantastic such as a personal favourite of mine, ‘Cube’ (which is on the UK service but not US).

The main argument I see from those who use my service is that this is 2015; everyone under the age of 20 has lived their entire life with The Internet. Everyone up to 33 years old has had good access since being a teenager. Information, including digital media, moves so freely around the world. Why then should we be restricted to arbitrary regions for films on Netflix? That and fact that all the money ends up, in one way or another, in the same pot at Netflix HQ.

 

There is a video from Netflix that explains the licensing issues with regards different reasons. Is this the full story behind the differences I wonder.

The issues we have with these arbitrary regions are not really Netflix’s doing. The studios and distributors seem to be in a bit of a timewarp with regards to their geographical-based licensing – still working back in the days of physical media, where there were sensible reasons for staggered release dates and availability such as physically moving or duplicating media. The Netflix PR video you mention does cover this aspect of the licensing. However, something that doesn’t seem to get mentioned in many places, and in my opinion is the main reason for the differences, is competition. In the UK Netflix is up against Sky’s Now TV and Amazon Prime Instant; in America they are up against the likes of Amazon and Hulu. Different regions have different competition who are willing to pay different amounts to the studios for their content – for example to get exclusive rights before any other streaming service.

Yes, you could possibly argue that all the money goes into the same pot so some of the American subscription income could be used for UK content – and I’m sure Netflix are fully aware of this – but in order to stay on the good side of the studios and distributors Netflix will have to come to some agreements; mainly that certain titles are available in certain regions. In the UK Sky have a LOT of money and can wangle some big exclusives for certain films. However most Sky subscribers pay over £20 a month. There’s a tie up between Netflix staying cheap and them getting the big movies… Personally, I’d prefer them to stay cheap. I can’t warrant the cost of Sky. However, in other regions this competition may not be as great, so it’s feasible for Netflix to get ‘bigger’ titles without having to bid against the likes of Sky.

A good example of this being out of Netflix’s hands is their own original content. The likes of House of Cards, Orange is the New Black etc – those are available worldwide at the same time. I’m sure if the studios allowed it, Netflix would be happy to have the same content worldwide, but while there are competing services offering more money to the studios/distributors in different regions then we’ll always have this different availability.

 

Given the nature of the two Netflix websites you run, you must see the amount of churn/change that happens with the Netflix shows/movies in real time. Is it significant? Do users notice the change?

I’ve not been doing the USA service for as long so it’s difficult to give a good idea of the turnover for that service. However, in the UK you can see via http://netflix.maft.uk/stats#amonthlynet and http://netflix.maft.uk/stats#amonthly that there is, on average, a net increase of available titles every month. Most titles are available for 12 months and Netflix give a couple of weeks warning if something is going to be removed. At the start of each month a larger number of titles are added – between 30 and 80 and then, throughout the rest of the month there is a steady stream of additions. Towards the end of the month a number of titles will be removed. This constant changing (but with a net increase) keeps the catalogue fresh but can, at times, make people think that all they do is remove things! Users do notice the change but usually more when titles are removed (we’re British [well, I am, I know you’re not!!], we like to complain) although there are a high proportion of those who use my service that share and discuss the new additions each month. In 2014 there was a net increase of 227 titles (1,409 removals and 1,636 additions) – more than half of the UK content was ‘replaced’ in 2014 as well as 227 extra titles.

 

The reports around a crackdown on VPN access of the US Netflix are claimed to be false by the company. I think this has really brought the difference between the US and UK versions into people’s minds.

Coming back to VPNs and the statement from Netflix about their crackdown being false, I actually agree with this. Every news item that mentioned the alleged VPN ‘crackdown’ all pointed back to the same Torrent website as the source. I’ve not seen ANY other person, site or company say they have been blocked from using VPNs. I saw a post somewhere (I think it may have been a discussion in Reddit – hardly the most enlightened of sources at times!) that suggested that perhaps the torrent community felt threatened by Netflix’s popularity and wanted to mucky it’s name in a bit to get people to use torrent sites more. This is pure conjecture and I’m not quite sure if I agree with this or not, but it seems odd that this site was the only one to claim that VPNs were being blocked.

As you say, the fact that this hit the news has certainly highlighted the difference between the US and UK content (as well as other regions). I’m hopeful that as time goes on these arbitrary regions are dissolved and more and more content is ‘shared’ across the different services. However, I’m fully aware that this relies, in the most part, with the studios and distributors – and look how long it has taken the music industry to embrace digital audio…

 

Do you have a list of major releases that are on the US version and not available here?

Major releases on UK/USA services… This is actually quite tricky to do – I mentioned before about how subjective ‘good’ films are etc… However, here’s a quick list that shows some big differences between the UK and US services:

16 Titles Available in UK but NOT USA:

  • Shawshank Redemption
  • The Godfather
  • Suits
  • Homeland
  • Person of Interest
  • Battlestar Galactica (new version)
  • Toy Story 3
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Monsters Inc.
  • Donnie Darko
  • The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
  • Ghost In The Shell
  • Postman Pat: The Movie
  • Robocop (2014)
  • Walking on Sunshine

16 Titles Available in USA but NOT UK:

  • Sherlock (series 3)
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Arrow
  • Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
  • The Walking Dead
  • Django Unchained
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Friends
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • Get Santa
  • Cuban Fury
  • Frank
  • Tinkerbell: The Pirate Fairy
  • Battlestar Galactica (original version)
  • Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
  • Sharknado
Dec 182012
 

This is getting longer than the Star Wars Saga now*… Following on from my initial moan about BT and my second blog post about it I thought I’d give an update seeing as they have annoyed me yet again. And I still have no Internetz.

On Saturday morning (5 days after BT should have installed my broadband) I submitted a support request to @BTCare who had already said that if I didn’t hear from someone by Friday at 8pm to get in touch directly with them. This is what I sent:

Hi. Still waiting for my Broadband to be connected and not happy with being lied to multiple times with promised call backs that don’t materialise. Also been billed for broadband when you haven’t even installed it yet!

Full details can be found here: http://maft.co.uk/musings/2012/moving-to-bt-not-the-best-start/ and here: http://maft.co.uk/musings/2012/bt-bloody-terrible/

Sorry, it’s too much to rewrite it all again!

Hope something can get sorted. I am really not happy.

 

That same afternoon evening I received this reply from ‘Paul S’ of @BTCare:

Hi,

Thanks for getting in touch and sorry to hear about the problems, I’ve checked this out and the what happened is that the broadband part of the order was cancelled by Wholesale meaning it had to be reissued, if you have been told anything other than this then I apologise. The order has now been replaced and an expedite request issued, a response to that should be received on Monday and at that point we will know when the service will start.

I am hopeful that the response on Monday will be a good one based on the history here so I will let you know what’s happening then, you may also be contacted by another team that are monitoring the issue for you but that’s just so you know. Sorry this happened in the first place but chat soon, one last thing, we are aware of certain restrictions on dates so that won’t be a problem, take care.

Paul
BTCare

This actually got my hopes up. It was as though someone at BT actually cared that customers we being ignored, lied to and being treated like poop. The promise that there would be a (hopefully good) response by Monday actually meant I stopped thinking about it for the rest of the weekend and all day yesterday (Monday).

As the day drew on and I still had no call from BT I was beginning to revert back to thinking that they just don’t care… It’s now 8am the morning after I was supposed to hear back from BT and still nothing…

Last night I had a little whine on The Twitter:

To which @BTCare replied:

Forgive me for being cynical, but wasn’t I promised this before? You know, someone actually getting in touch with me about the service I’m paying for that STILL hasn’t been installed??!!

It’s getting beyond a joke now, I’m only sticking it out as I probably have enough ammunition now for a fairly hefty discount for the best part of a year!

 

*Footnote:  By my calculations the entire Star Wars saga is 797 mins (all 6 episodes). As of 8am Tuesday 18th December 2012 187 hours have passed since BT should have installed my broadband. In that time I could have watched the entire Star Wars saga 14 (fourteen) times.

Dec 142012
 

Follow on from this post

So 8pm came and went, I called them and spent 40 minutes on the phone to India but couldn’t actually get anywhere because the orders and billing departments were both closed. So they have requested a call-back for me between 10-11am tomorrow… I wonder if THAT one will materialise?

As you can guess, I’m pretty mad – even more annoyed at the number of broken promised from BT. I mean, really, how hard is it to activate a phone line before an engineer comes?! They managed to get the hub to me on time… not that I can use it…

Dec 142012
 

On Friday 23rd November we exchanged contracts and agreed a moving date of Friday 30th November. On that day I also ordered BT’s Infinity 2 60MB Fibre Optic Broadband Package as my previous supplier of 60MB broadband, Virgin Media, don’t do our new address. After ordering I was told they couldn’t connect it all up until Monday 10th December. A bit annoying, but I could live with tethering on my phone.

Monday 10th came and my son had been admitted to hospital the night before however Mrs-MaFt was at home for when the engineer arrived at 8.45am. This is when the problems started… The engineer couldn’t do anything because, it turned out, BT had not activated the phone line. He had another job to get to but said he would try get back later in the day or, at the latest, he would come the following day and get it all done. Slightly more annoying but I could live with a one day delay. So, later in the day I get a text message and an email confirming the phone line is now up and running… but no broadband engineer was to be seen. That’s OK, he said he would come back the next day.

The following morning I get this text message from BT:

BT SMS 1

What?! I missed the appointment? And you expect me to wait another 2 weeks??!! I was, as you may expect, pretty fuming. I could maybe understand having to wait another 2 weeks if we had actually missed the appointment, but considering someone was in all day even while our son was in hospital I think we did pretty damn well at keeping the appointment! So, I phoned them up to see what they were playing at. Basically they admitted it was their fault and they don’t expect me to wait two weeks until the engineer can come back. So they said they would fast-track it and try get someone out in the next few days – I confirmed that any day that week would be fine. They said they would check with the engineering people and get back to me later in the day.

‘Later in the day’ came and there was still no call returned – this was about 6pm. So I phoned them back. After going through the whole story again I was told that it was on my account that they would phone me the following day (Wednesday) so I queried why I was told it would be the same day when they called back. He also said there’s nothing he could do as it’s been escalated already.

The next day I got this:

BT SMS 2

Guess what? I was a little bit annoyed… Actually, no I wasn’t, I was VERY annoyed (with capital letters). As I was told not to phone them I went to The Twitter to have a bit of a moan to @BTCare who, to be fair to that department, seemed to be trying to be helpful. However as it had already been escalated and I’d been given a date/time that they would contact me by they couldn’t really do much else.

Yesterday to rub some more salt in my wounds they sent me a bill for my broadband services. You know, the one they haven’t actually provided me with. Remember I’m still not allowed to phone them so I went to their online chat to ‘discuss my bill’. Here’s the conversation I had (click to enlarge):

BT Billing Query

 

Five o’clock came and went with no return call from Syed Saaduddin. To be honest, I’m used to being let down by BT now that it didn’t actually annoy me that much. Perhaps this is their super new business idea – annoy their customers so much that they just drop dead in exasperation!

So now, here I am, sitting, waiting for BT to call me. They currently have just over 3 1/2 hours left to call me and give me a new installation date. And explain why they haven’t done anything that they promised. And why they are charging me for a service they aren’t providing. And why they seemingly don’t understand that the ‘T’ in ‘BT’ is, basically, for ‘COMMUNICATION’ – which they seem inept at.

I’ll update later tonight or tomorrow with whether or not they actually call me before 8pm. If you want a sneak peak though you can follow me on The Twitter via @MaFt where no doubt I will be doing some suppressed swears shortly after 8pm. When BT’s lines are probably closed…

 

FOLLOW UP POST: “BT: Bloody Terrible

 

Dec 142012
 

I’m just transferring all the media over for new client who is moving from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress site (using my hosting company Salt & Light Solutions) and it reminded me to write this post…! The photos that had been uploaded to the WordPress.com blog were approx 4MB each (4272 x 2848 pixels!) – this causes a few problems when you transfer to self-hosted. 1) space issues, 2) bandwidth issues and 3) visitor experience – more info:

1) Space – each photo is 4MB – on WP.com this doesn’t matter, you get as much space as you need. As soon as you pay for hosting space costs money. On a self-hosted WP site too the image you upload is duplicated 4 times – you have the original photo and then 3 or 4 different sized versions of the image so a 4MB photo ends up taking up about 6MB of space once WP makes the different versions of the file that it needs.

2) Bandwidth – if your photo is 4MB then each time the full image is downloaded it uses up 4MB of your bandwidth (the data-transfer allowance, so to speak). Most browsers will resize huge images so they fit on the screen nicely BUT you must remember that the full 4MB image will need to be downloaded before the browser will do that. Again, on WP.com, bandwidth isn’t an issue but self-hosted: bandwidth costs money!

3) Visitor experience –  if your photos are 4MB each then this means that people with slower connections will have to wait a loooooong time to see an image. Multiply that by 20 times if you have loads of images loading on your home page and you will quickly turn people away from your blog.

So, taking all the above into account, what can you do about it? One option is to resize each photo before you upload it but, let’s be honest here, we’re all busy people and isn’t it just so much easier to select 10 photos from your digital camera to upload as a gallery than to mess about resizing each one? What if the magical WordPress fairies could do all this for you once you upload the photo? Yep – much better!

As such I heartily recommend installing a plugin called ‘Imsanity‘ (just search in the plugin installer and you will find it) which basically resizes any photo you upload and removes the original massive photo. This then gets rid of all three issues mentioned above: space (the 4mb file no longer exists and will be reduced to about 0.3MB), bandwidth (each time the photo is loaded it uses 10 times less bandwidth) and the visitor experience (smaller file sizes means the site loads much faster).

Another advantage of Imsanity is that it can resize any photos already on your self-hosted WP site! One client who I recommended the plugin to freed up about 1.2GB of space!

I hope this helps some WordPress users who have made the switch from WP.com to self-hosted.

Apr 112012
 

It’s been a while since I recorded a phone scammer but I had another one today. I missed the first 30 seconds or so as I was fumbling with my iPhone to find the SoundCloud app which it appears I’ve managed to delete. Or Mini-MaFt has deleted… So I quickly launched up the Voice Memo app and hit record.

The results of my entertaining call from 009806553210 are below. It’s just over 30 minutes long though, but I think it’s worth it. Especially if you want to know my clothes size and how ‘maximise’ has changed my letter-writing experience.

I like to think I’ve done a public service – keeping these guys from the rest of the world for 30 minutes may have saved someone from getting duped.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3: