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
Feb 052014
 

Mini-MaFt, like me, loves watching films; and he, like me, loves going to the cinema. The social ‘norms’ of the cinema, however, don’t really fit with his autism. Things we take for granted like sitting still, not talking, not telling the whole auditorium what just happened (three times a minute… for 10 minutes) are generally frowned upon during cinematic outings. This certainly doesn’t stop us from going to the cinema, we just have different methods to most people. Most people rush to the cinema as soon as a big film is out – we leave it a week or two. Most people like to have an ‘evening out’ at the cinema – we go to the earliest showing.

These methods have a few benefits:

  1. Cinema tickets are cheaper during the day – the prices increase around 6pm
  2. You generally don’t need to queue (even less so if you order online – Tip: Cineworld tickets are 10% cheaper online and have no booking fee)
  3. A week after it’s release a film isn’t as busy – you can pick the best seats without paying extra
  4. Less busy times means much less ambient noise and less physical bodies in the foyer etc
  5. With an average of 10-20 people watching a film it’s easy to pick a seat away from the ‘crowd’ so any questions and/or discussions don’t interfere with other cinema goers

It works for us, and it’s great.

Many cinema chains have what they call “Autism-Friendly Screenings” of certain films. I’ve looked into these and I’m not convinced they would work well for us. I also think they’ve got a few things wrong. The Dimensions UK website (who organise the screenings) state the following items that make a screening more autism-friendly:

  • The lights will be on low
  • The volume will be turned down
  • There will be no trailers at the beginning of the film
  • You’ll be able to take your own food and drinks
  • You’ll be able to move around the cinema if you like

 

The lights will be on low

Once when we were at the cinema there were a couple of technical glitches. The main one for me and many of the other people who were turning round looking at each other, was that the 3D hadn’t been ‘turned on’ – we were getting the duplicated image on the screen but the glasses had no effect. The other glitch, and one that no one else seemed to notice, was that the house lights were still on, albeit only slightly. This set Mini-MaFt off: “Why are the lights on? It’s too bright. It’s going to spoil the film. The lights are meant to be off in the cinema. It needs to be dark.” I don’t think anyone else noticed that the house lights were still on – but it stopped Mini-MaFt being able to relax and enjoy the film. They did sort out the 3D and lights before the film itself started though. So for us, if the lights are on (even on low) then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly – “they’re supposed to be off, everyone knows that!”

 

The volume will be turned down

“People with autism don’t like noise”. That’s actually not true; it’s missing one word: “some” as in “some people with autism don’t like noise”. If you want a broad statement about noise and people with autism then use this, more accurate, one: “People with autism often have different sensitivities to different stimuli”. Some are over-sensitive, some are under-sensitive and some, admittedly rarer, are both over-sensitive as well as under-sensitive at different times. A low volume will be great for someone who is over-sensitive to sound. But what about those who are under-sensitive to sound? Basically, they won’t hear the film. Mini-MaFt’s situation is a difficult one to pin down – at times it seems he is under-sensitive (things need to be loud) but then at times the slightest noise sets him off (as though he is over-sensitive). There are other factors too, such as what else is going on. At times it seems like the TV is loud because it helps him to concentrate on his one task – watching TV. Most people are able to filter out background noise but this is something people with autism often struggle with. So a cinema where the volume is lower will also affect Mini-MaFt in a similar way – if there are any other noises (people talking, whispering, sweets rustling, someone breathing) then this will make it difficult for him to concentrate on the film itself. Mini-MaFt has a thirst for knowledge; he loves to ask questions about everything – especially new things. If he’s watching a film he hasn’t seen before then he will ask questions and want things clarifying. He will also tell me numerous times what happened. With the low volume this is more likely to affect other cinema goers. So for us, if the volume is low, then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly.

 

There will be no trailers at the beginning of the film

I can sort of understand the reason behind this – many people with autism struggle with the concept of time, and if something is seen then they often need the instant gratification of receiving it. So if someone with autism sees a trailer then that may play on their mind and cause problems as they would want it there and then. Showing trailers could also interrupt a routine: “We’re going to the cinema to see XYZ”, “So why is it showing ABC on the screen then?”. My main gripe with this decision is that, well, it makes it boring. It also removes an opportunity to plan ahead. If Mini-MaFt sees a trailer for a film and likes the look of it he will ask if we can see it – I learnt a long time ago not to make promises I could not, 100% guarantee, that I could keep – so my usual response is “we’ll see”. When we do get around to seeing it he already has a good idea of what will happen in the film (most trailers these days tell you the whole story anyway!) which limits his anxiousness and can sometimes reduce the number of questions asked during the film. It also works as a good ‘social story‘ to help plan both in advance and to discuss afterwards about ‘how the cinema event works’. So for us, if there are no trailers, then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly (and also removes a great opportunity for parents and carers to teach some new social skills).

 

You’ll be able to take your own food and drinks

Well, we do this anyway and have never been apprehended, chased, expelled or banned… But it’s nice to have permission! Having said that, part of our job as parents and carers bringing up a child with autism is to help our children understand the world as it is. It’s like school sports days where “everyone’s a winner just for taking part” – that isn’t how life works; nor is being able to take everything you want, everywhere you go at all times. Why not use the cinema’s rules on food and drink as a social story to teach children about how different places have different rules and that we need to follow them, even if we don’t agree with them? Let them have the opportunity to practice choosing some sweets – in general the range of goodies is far less than in a local corner shop so the choice will not be as overwhelming. But if you need to, break it down for them into a choice of two or three items. It’ll be a good experience, you can discuss it afterwards about how if someone takes a long time to choose then this gets other people upset because they want their turn – again, social stories using situations they are more likely to be able to relate to. And, if all else fails, you have a bag of Haribo Starmix in your coat pocket anyway.

 

You’ll be able to move around the cinema if you like

On a recent cinema trip there were two families sat together, the parents were chattering away and the kids were running up and down the aisles and along the front of the screen. This was while the film was on. I was reluctant to say anything because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of questions like “can’t you control your child?”. Mini-MaFt wasn’t so calm about the situation though and the children moving about was very off-putting for him – it was a distraction to him. He also got quite upset that they weren’t sitting down; “you’re not supposed to run around at the cinema” – the rules were being broken and, my word, did he need to make it known! So this feature, being allowed to move around during the film, has two flaws; the first that is will likely be a distraction to other autistic people who may already be struggling to concentrate on the film itself and, secondly, it teaches children that they can run around at the cinema. Remember the sports day from earlier? It’s that all over again – to stand a chance of surviving into adulthood we need to help our children understand the world. Most people will have a natural understanding of cinemas when they first visit; they will see other users sitting down and pick up on those social cues and follow them. Those with autism generally don’t pick up on those cues and need to be taught things that others take for granted. I’m not quite sure how this feature helps to promote an understanding of how the world works. So for us, if people are allowed to walk around, then the autism-friendly screening wouldn’t be that friendly.

 

Following on from these features, the autism-friendly screenings are usually once a month, with a film chosen by the cinema. What will happen if the child (or sibling) wants to see a different film, one that is not shown in the autism-friendly scheme? What practice have they had for going to the cinema on a normal showing? Have you ‘practised’ going to the cinema at other times? Have you discussed what will be different from the other cinema trips? Because if you haven’t then it won’t be an easy experience – and chances are you’ll just stick to the autism-friendly screenings. And I’ve already asked if that really helps people in the grand scheme of things…

I don’t want to seem overly critical of what Dimension UK and the cinema chains are doing – far from it, I think it is great that the needs of autistic people are being discussed. However, I think there is great scope for improvement – such as recognising that under-sensitivity exists as well as over-sensitivity. A large part of what I am saying also relates to parents and carers. I know how hard daily life is with an autistic child and I know how often we all want things to be much easier and to just be able to go out and ‘be normal’ without all the extra planning and emotion that goes into daily activities. It’s nice to have autism-friendly screenings like this (if they suit your child’s needs) but it’s also paramount (pun intended) to remember our ‘job’ is to help our children to grow up with a sound understanding of the world around them. Bringing them up in the autism-cinema-ghetto may make things easy in the here-and-now but what are the long term effects? What if a friend invites them to the cinema for a birthday treat? Do you want to have to say ‘no’ to the invitation? I know that I would rather be able to say ‘yes’ because I know that Mini-MaFt is well-versed in cinema-etiquette, even if he still struggles at times. Last year Mini-MaFt got invited to his friends birthday party at the cinema – we said yes, and he survived. And I honestly believe a lot of that was because he had had ‘normal’ cinema experiences and learnt a lot of social skills from it.

So if they work for you then great but, from experience, I’d highly recommend going to ‘normal’ cinema screenings and using the opportunity to develop a load of life-skills. Perhaps my tips in the opening paragraph will help ‘break you in’?

Mar 182011
 

I’m sick to death of having HD shoved down my throat. Everywhere you go it’s ‘HD this’ and ‘HD that’ even to the point where people make up new meanings for what HD actually is. I overheard a salesman telling an old woman that she needed a HD-ready TV so it will still work after the digital switchover – the poor old dear only wanted a 14-16inch TV for in the kitchen!!

A friend of mine (@echoingsounds) asked if I’d seen ‘Abatoir‘ (I may have misheard him though) to which I answered “yes’ – because I have an I didn’t see the point in lying about such a  trivial thing. He then said “Oooooohhhhhh, wait until you see it in HD!” to which I responded “Why? does it make the story better?”. Completely missing the fact that I wasn’t overly impressed with the film he simply said “No, it just looks amazing”.

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 Posted by at 1:15 pm
May 292010
 

Shortly after my 3rd birthday something special was released in the UK – ‘Return of The Jedi’. My two oldest brothers, Tim and Nat, got to go see it at the cinema while Andy and myself were left behind. I’m not sure whether our parents felt that the Ewoks would be too frightening for us or whether they simply couldn’t afford to take all four of us! Regardless of the reason, we were consoled with a 99 Flake when the ice cream van came by.

Yesterday something special was released in the UK – Apple’s iPad. I’d love one but I simply can’t afford one. So, in homage to the day I was denied Return of The Jedi, I bought myself a 99 Flake to console myself. Some things just never change!

Jul 312009
 

Cerrie BurnellBack in February this year there was uproar from some narrow-minded parents about the employment of Cerrie Burnell for CBeebies. I won’t go into all the pathetic comments that were posted in various forums but basically some people believed that a TV presenter with no forearm would scare children away from TV and she was only employed to ‘make up numbers’. Utter nonsense if you ask me… Anyway, 5 months on and Mini-MaFt has finally noticed this so-called hideous-scare-machine-of-a-TV-presenter’s ‘disability’ and, contrary to the idiots  speculation, he wasn’t scared, he didn’t run away screaming and I highly doubt he will have any nightmares about it either. He simply said, in a perfectly child-like way, “Eh? Where’s her hand gone?”. And that was it! It didn’t take very long to tell him that everyone is born different and that when she was growing in her mummy’s tummy her arm didn’t grow properly. Nothing else was asked about it so I really can’t see why so many parents were so scared of their precious little darling’s seeing someone ‘different’ to them… I wonder if the same people complained that there’s a black TV presenter on CBeebies too…?!