In late 1929, Radio Moscow went on air for the first time. It didn't broadcast in Russian. Why? It wasn't meant for a Russian audience. Instead, Radio Moscow's aim was to spread a Russian viewpoint to Europe, or at least the parts of it speaking English, French, and German. Radio Moscow beamed its way into homes across Europe, selling the vision of a happy, productive, empowered Russia.
And they were only the first. Country after country, starting in the 1930s and with increasing speed once WWII started, saw the founding of such international programs, including Voice of America, the BBC World Service, and Canada’s National Film Board.
What all these broadcasters had in common was their purpose: to advance a national point of view, over high-frequency radio (and in the case of the NFB, in movie palaces), to gain mindshare with listeners outside their national borders.
Let's fast-forward to today. Mindshare is still an issue for large companies, which have more of it than do many small countries. And, crucial to our discussion, nationalized broadcasting has largely given way to private media companies, for whom mindshare means branding and is handmaiden to profit. It's about using hearts and minds to get at pocket books. That's a different model than the old one, and its faithful followers have been using different strategies.
Case in point: Media company after media company has adopted IP blocking. This practice, which locks out users with the “wrong” IP address, is used to target Web content to a specific region. The most common reason for its use is licensing: The content being served up on the blocked Website is under certain contractual restrictions that allow it to only be broadcast in a specific country.
A fine example of this is Web coverage of the recent winter Olympics. NBC, which had broadcast rights in the United States, restricted its online video coverage to users with American IP addresses. Other broadcasters in other countries had been granted rights for their regions. IP blocking, in this case, made sense. It enforced legal and contractual restrictions.
For a counterpoint, let's take a look at the BBC. The controversial iPlayer, an online media player, gives Britons access to previously broadcast BBC TV programs. Many of these programs are actually produced by the BBC, which eliminates a vast number of rights issues. All the same, the service is only available to those logging in from IP addresses in the UK.
A financial argument for this IP blocking would be that because Britons pay for BBC programs with their mandatory license fee, they should have exclusive access to those programs.
This is somewhat shortsighted. There's a proverbial waterfall of money that the BBC (and other organizations like it) is failing to put a bucket under. There's ad revenue waiting to be made on the backs of willing viewers outside the BBC's normal catchment area.
That goes for every other broadcaster with the proper rights situation. If you own the rights, use them! There's a world of viewers eager to get access to your IP-blocked content, willing to be served ads and to take onboard your view of the world. Speak to them.
Let’s go back to the National Film Board, that Canadian cultural institution, which has put more than 800 of its films online without IP blocking of any sort. (Disclosure: I’ve worked with the NFB in the past and probably will do so again.) Anyone who wants to watch Log Driver's Waltz or The Sweater (those staples of Canadian childhood) can. Anywhere in the world. That's equally true of brand new films like Runaway and Rip! A Remix Manifesto. Why? Because the NFB is a bit of a throwback in terms of motivation. The NFB tells Canada's story at home and abroad.
If a non-commercial video portal can get the traffic NFB.ca does (two million video screenings within the first ten months, plus 185,000 video plays in the first week after the release of its iPhone app), then commercial media organizations, with programs people really want to see, should be able to beat that easily -- and they can serve ads.
— ginger coons is a designer, artist, pseudo-academic, and occasional writer whose work specializes in topics of intellectual property, civil liberties, and truth in production.