Sunday, March 11, 2012

Watching American TV in Germany

A few weeks ago, The Oatmeal posted a comic about streaming Game of Thrones (due to copyright, I can't actually post it on my blog, so go look at it before you read the rest of this).  The essence of the comic is that there is a dilemma to watching shows legally: watch it on Netflix or download it on iTunes, purchase it through Amazon, stream it on Hulu or the HBO site, or just download it illegally.  The dilemma is when the show is unavailable on legal sources like Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Hulu, and HBO wants you to have a whole subscription in order to watch it.  At that point, you can either wait until Hulu/Netflix/other services has it, or you can download it.

Living outside the United States poses a similar problem.  I myself prefer to choose legal means to consume media and pay for everything because I think that the people involved with the media production deserve to get the money (though yes, I do realize that they only get pennies and it's the executives and other people not actually involved in production that get the biggest portion).  However, it's problematic when shows are a season behind here in Germany because the shows need to be dubbed.

And that's my biggest problem.  I would love to have a service like Netflix here, but the majority of services don't offer the choice between watching something in the original version and the dubbed version.  It's so stupid because it is so easy to have different files with different audio tracks -- look at DVDs!  I also can't buy/rent/stream things through the American Amazon or iTunes because my IP address is obviously from Germany.  I could pay for an American proxy server, sure, but I'm pretty sure there could be some legal hangups there just as much as downloading.  So even if I want to watch something legally, I might have to watch it dubbed if I watch it online.  Otherwise, I have to wait until the DVD comes out and that takes even longer than in the U.S.  DVDs can come out possibly two seasons after it airs in the U.S.  Can you imagine trying to not hear about how Lost ended while waiting for the DVDs?  It was a near impossible task.

Here in Germany, it's not even just limited to watching TV shows.  I can't even watch videos on YouTube that have music in them, including official music videos from the artists.  (Trying to find Lady Gaga's video "Marry the Night" in its entirety was annoying.)  Thanks to GEMA, official music videos can't be streamed over YouTube because it would be too expensive to have to pay for every time the video is watched.  Even for big acts like Lady Gaga.  It just frustrates me that OFFICIAL VIDEOS are even blocked!  It's not like it's some schmuck that uploaded a poor copy of the video.

How is it that in this day and age of interconnectivity we are still unable to figure out connections like this?  I guess part of it is the SOPA/PIPA/ACTA type bills that try to prosecute servers which have uploaded files.  Watching the debates of the SOPA/PIPA bills was simultaneously amusing and sad because none of the sponsors seem to really have an idea how the internet works.  But listening to them also just made me think that copyright laws are completely out of date.  They don't take into account that the world is more connected and that technology is changing the way we consume media.  Copyright laws had problems even back in the day of video tapes and cassettes and yet those are still the same laws with minimal change that are policy.  I think copyright law should be scrapped and rewritten anew and take into consideration that interconnectivity is inevitable.  Not only that, but companies are losing even more money because of these restrictions.  I would like to believe that people other than myself would pay for available services to watch shows in broadcast quality.

Surprisingly, two shows I watch regularly allow people abroad to watch them on their websites: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.  I don't know what exactly their deal is and why they are accessible, but I watch both shows on the sites directly and even sit through the advertisements.  Sometimes the ads are geared towards someone living in Germany, meaning, they're in German, but sometimes they're clearly ads for an American audience for products that don't exist here.  But that's ok.  Because they are available here NOT DUBBED or shortened or anything, I feel that my loyalty to the shows is even more so than with others who refuse access.  So kudos to Comedy Central and Viacom for allowing fans outside North America to watch these shows.  Everyone else should follow their example.