Damn You and Your “This Video is Not Available in Your Country”

I get doubly irritated every time I get to a page with a video that’s not available in my country, as the situation touches both my general user and online marketer sensibilities. No one likes to have their time wasted, and getting to a page where a given video isn’t available is frustrating because of the violation of expectation. People linking to (or embedding) a video from the right country don’t know when it’s being cut off from others and whether or not they are sending their users towards a dead-end. Sometimes the video is watched on a specific site that blocks outsiders, and sometimes it’s YouTube filtering on behalf of the video producer. Both cases are relevant here.

Missed Understanding

I decided to try to see what the deal (or, as the case may be, lack of deal) was, starting with a search for “This Video is Not Available in Your Country”. In numerous messageboards and comment threads, people spend about half the time speculating as to the motivations behind these restrictions, including not wanting people in other countries to benefit from British payer TV license fees (for those outside the UK that don’t know, every household with a television has to pay a TV license fee which basically keeps the bulk of the BBC’s programming without advertisements), not having ad deals for audiences outside the country of production, and conflicts between domestic funding of internationally-viewed material. The other half of the words are spent sharing ways around the restrictions, including URL modifications that don’t trigger the IP check, use of proxy connections, and IP anonymizers. Generally, people seem irritated, but resourceful.

One impression sticks out above all others; people don’t really know why the video isn’t available in their country. While it’s obviously not the full story behind the workarounds, I wonder to what extent people feel justified finding other ways to view their favourite material when no explanation is provided. I imagine that the problems are case by case, which itself is a problem. I’m hesitant to want some kind of association to work this out, since I don’t trust what they would come up with. Still, I feel like people should know why things are the way they are, and know who to ask for more information. If there is such a group I don’t know about, they should think about optimizing for “This Video is Not Available in Your Country”, as a start. There are specific alternative solutions for the sites that restrict their own content, but I’ll get back to those later.

Marketing Dead-End Traffic

With so many people wanting the Internet to be as international as its etymology would suggest, I wonder to what extent international branding is being considered. Every time I go to a web site that turns me down like this, I’m annoyed, and don’t forget it. International users may not be your target audience, but this is a good way of making sure they never are. If it’s a case of the site restricting its own audience without any contingency measures, they are missing out on potentially useful traffic. Appealing to other countries can provide long term branding benefits that could outweigh, for example, the bandwidth costs.

For cases when it’s not a site+video combination, and it’s actually the video on its own through YouTube, I just can’t see the advantage in cutting people off. Pre-roll, post-roll, or watermark your clip and spread your brand internationally. It some cases, a new market could open. For cases when the doors are closed, did they really do an open-minded cost benefit analysis, or is this just shrug-inducing red tape? Do discussions include the benefits of the comments from international users, on the social media platforms that discuss them and on the sites themselves? What about the benefits of domestic users being more willing to watch videos with higher total view counts as testament to their quality, when the totals are inflated by an international audience? What about attempts to spread internationally, that get re-spread back domestically? Virally spread content (and video represents a lot of it) echoes around the world (it’s the point), and you can be sacrificing in-out-in traffic by not willing to see two steps ahead. It’s all wasted views, wasted traffic, wasted participation.

How to Not Be A Lazy Ass About It

I may just not understand the tricky bureaucracy of it all,  so let’s just assume for a moment that videos restricted in this way will never be de-restricted, and for good reason. What then?

Reddit apologizes when asking that you use their captcha in creating a new account. To me, that’s classy respect for a user. Sites that offer videos to a limited demographic could learn a thing or two about how to be good to users that have arrived on their site and triggered their ad banners. Here are some things to consider (Note: these do not apply in the video content alone situation, and are directed at sites that restrict their own video content):

1. Identify your users. This isn’t so much a full solution as it is a pre-step. If you are going to treat these people you’re cutting off with a bit more sense and respect, you need a mechanism to identify them and know when you’re communicating with them. Use Geo-IP targeting and start focusing.

2. Explain the situation. I mentioned earlier that people don’t know why videos aren’t available. “Copyright restrictions” is not enough of an explanation. If I copy DVDs and sell the copies, that would sound a lot more like a violation of copyright restrictions. Does the average person really understand it in this non-domestic video viewer context? People sometimes change their entire site’s content using Geo-IP filtering, depending on the user’s country of origin. Once you know you’re not going to offer your videos, you’ve recognized that the user is from a non-viewing country, and you’ve decided want to be decent about it, why not add a hyperlinked line of text that says “Why can’t I watch this video?” that leads to a pop up box or page that explains? Maybe there’s no immediate profit in that, but it’s not exactly brain surgery to implement. Considering videos get linked to from sites all over the world, wouldn’t it be worth the relatively small effort?

3. Tell them what to do instead. Re-direct your otherwise underprivileged users, either with full-on browser redirections, or by adding a link to where this content can be found in their region. I’m a big Daily Show & Stephen Colbert fan, so when I was living in Canada, it was always irritating to have the best clips hit the homepage of Digg and then not be available for Canadians at same URL. America’s ComedyCentral.com, the main location of The Daily Show and its clips, parallels Canada’s TheComedyNetwork.ca. When I’d click on the Daily Show clip, I’d get pretty much the usual “sorry no video 4 u” message. This is content that actually IS available on the other site, but they don’t do much in the way of getting you to it or showing the same material. In many cases, the content isn’t exactly the same, and one site’s clip is another site’s full show, meaning too bad if you wanted to get aboard the specific clip’s buzz on your country’s web site.

Last fall, I moved from Canada to the UK, where the same Daily Show content restriction applies. From here, when I head on over to The Daily Show’s site, this is what I see:

I didn’t crop maliciously. There is no extra information about why it’s restricted, and if I can see it elsewhere. I guess The Daily Show isn’t watchable in the UK. Darn.

Oh wait, it’s available on Channel4, right here. Argh. I can’t image the red tape extends so far as to not allow some help for UK visitors typing in a fairly expected domain name to find the content. Comedy Central UK is active, but the .com doesn’t point you to it when visiting from the UK, either.

What’s Next

It seems ridiculous to me to have users struggling to find ways to see people’s content, when so much of the web involves people  begging people to watch their videos, trying to build traffic. These aren’t even commercial-avoiding TIVO or torrent people – they’ll watch the ads. That reminds me. A few days ago, I came across a page that had the nerve to show be a 15 second ad before telling me the video I came to see was unavailable to me. Motherf… I can’t remember where it happened, but the day it happens again, I will include it here.

For now, it’s up to users to hunt for alternative ways to watch many of the things they love. As they do this, it might be smart to write to the relevant networks and request a fuller explanation, express discontent, and point out some of the suggestions above, in the hopes of creating a more international network of entertainment-lovers.

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