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How VPNs Might Help Reform the BBC

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A study carried out into the use of VPNs has suggested that more and more of us are masking our location when online.

For suppliers of streamable online content, this might at first glance appear to be a problem. If so, why isn’t anything being done to stop it?

 

What are VPNs?

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs to me and you, allow the extension of private networks across to public networks (i.e. the internet). So, data can be exchanged across a public network, but all the security and management benefits of private networks remain intact.

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VPNs provide a number of advantages. For business, it allows employees to gain access to work resources from outside the relevant network. For the security-conscious, it keeps communications secure and encrypted (possibly when using Public Wi-Fi). For the purposes of streaming, VPNs can mask the user’s location, allowing them to access content that is geographically restricted.

 

Usage on the Rise

Previously, it was assumed that VPNs were used exclusively by the tech-savy minority. GlobalWebIndex, who carried out the study, first confirmed this and then proceeded to disprove it. They claim that around 25% of all internet users worldwide are now active users of VPNs. After carrying out research on 45,000 users across 34 countries (including China, the US, India and many European countries), the results claim that 65 million people are regularly accessing the BBC iPlayer catch-up service whilst using VPNs from abroad.

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For the BBC at least, this remains a problem. Funded by UK residents via the TV licence, those who access the iPlayer from abroad, of which over 38 million are believed to be in China, are enjoying publically funded content absolutely free of charge. Until recently, visitors to the BBC iPlayer from outside the UK were only allowed to access content if they paid a subscription fee of €6.99 a month. The growth in the use of VPNs meant that the Beeb was losing out on millions in potential revenue, and eventually the service was closed in June of this year.

 

Why Netflix don’t Care

Whilst VPNs remain a real issue for the BBC, subscription-based streaming services can take an altogether more positive outlook. Sure, many of those users who are accessing iPlayer are using VPNs for Netflix and other subscription services too. It adds an extra layer of value to an already excellent product. Crucially however, each and every Netflix subscriber is a paying customer (after any free trials of course), no matter what country they stream from.

There has been some pressure from content creators to introduce punishments for VPN users. After all, contracts are signed for films and TV shows to only be made available by certain providers in certain regions. Understandably, services like Netflix have largely ignored any concerns surrounding the use of VPNs, and rightfully so. A sure-fire way to a failing business model is punishing paying customers for exploiting a grey area. The debate rages over whether using VPNs to access blocked content is technically an infringement of copyright, with Australia currently considering new legislation to block their use.

 

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To most streaming services then, VPNs barely register as a problem. If anything, they’re a good thing. Aside from providing the user with a greater variety of content, it also brings in new customers. Users in countries such as Iceland, where Netflix is not currently available, can use VPNs to sign up to the service.

A small, tokenistic effort has been made from Netflix in an attempt to please the VPN nay-sayers.  They reserve the right to locate where your account is held and whether you’re connecting via a VPN provider. It Netflix catch wind of your use of VPNs to access geographically restricted content, they threaten to terminate your subscription.

However, as mentioned above, users of VPNs can remain calm for the moment. As a paying customer, Netflix and co are unlikely to actively pursue the termination of your contract, and their new policy is no more than a token effort to please those who are unhappy at the existence of VPNs.

 

Time for a new BBC?

Shifting back to the BBC, the figures released could offer valuable insight into our national broadcaster’s future. Of the 65 million using the VPN loophole to access BBC content from abroad, 75% are already active subscribers to paid services such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video. The BBC is a globally respected brand and provider of great televisual content. In a political climate that currently hangs serious questions over the current method for funding the BBC, might a move to a subscription-based model be more fruitful?

The BBC still holds significant global appeal, and people in the UK are increasingly angered by the aging method of funding the corporation. VPNs may well have given the Beeb an opportunity to adopt a fresh, modern approach to how we access its content.

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11 comments

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  1. Richard Foleher 30 July, 2015 at 11:48

    What a well written article. I, for one, use a VPN to access some content from our cousins across the pond. Content that is released there almost 6-12 months before it’s released in the UK.

    As for Auntie, yes the BBC provides some truly excellent programme’s, but then again, so do the other UK terrestrial channels.

    Here in the UK we are potentially being hit in the pocket twice. The majority of us consume our daily tv fix via a paid subscription service – Sky, Virgin, BT et al, and on top of that cost, we then pay the TV license fee. Kind of like fuel duty on your tank of petrol, then VAT on top of that.

    Whilst services such as Freeview and Freesat are one off cost’s, to actually get the programmes you want to watch, you’re more than likely to add a channel package for an additional subscription.

    In reality, I believe that the days of the license fee are numbered. Whether that means the BBC move’s to a similar, advertisement supported, model comparable to those of every other cable/satellite station, or reinvests the money made from commercial licensing of popular programmes/formats to other Countries to make more great programmes.

    Either option will likely grow the BBC viewer base and, if ad supported, who would care where the viewer was? Ads would be seen, money would be generated and we, as UK license fee payers, wouldn’t feel like we’re the ones paying for the World’s entertainment.

  2. Alex Reeves 30 July, 2015 at 12:20

    Simple option, turn the BBC into a subscription based service but if you already have a TV licence, then that is essentially your annual subscription both to broadcast content and web hosted content. People outside of the UK will either have to buy the full licence or pay a monthly access fee for web access.

    Having a maximum of 5 unique devices able to access web based BBC services (iPlayer / BBC website etc) would stop, or reduce the risk of account sharing similar to the way most subscription models operate (Netflix / Amazon / Spotify).

    The world has massively moved on technically since the formation of the BBC and the introduction of the licence fee. Previously, access to programmes that were broadcast over the air was restricted due to geographic limits imposed on the transmitters. That doesn’t apply to the internet so the licencing model really does have to change dramatically to make it fair for everyone, otherwise I fear the BBC will struggle against better funded and universally available competitors.

  3. Anonymous 30 July, 2015 at 13:38

    I really don’t get this – if you are UK based – then BBC works.
    If you aren’t – then you can’t view it without proxying through a UK based connection. (which let’s face it, is likely only to be a proportionate minority – that’s a guess by the way)

    What has this got to do with the license fee? (or are we all after something for nothing again)

  4. Chomerly 30 July, 2015 at 15:35

    As good as VPN’s can be it is only a matter of time before we begin to see access to various services, and not just from the BBC, restricted by their parent companies as they all strive to eek out as much money from their respective services as possible.
    The bigger issue here though is the BBC, and how best it can be reformed.

    For me, I think the BBC should shut up and put its money where it’s mouth is and open itself up to the competition it has a massive advantage over.
    Those who run the place have run their mouths enough on how they believe that the BBC is the best TV service in the world so let’s find out.
    Let’s see if it is as popular as those who advocate on its behalf believe it to be.
    Let’s make it compete under the same conditions as all other broadcasting companies and services.

    Que the advocates.

  5. Jagman84 30 July, 2015 at 15:43

    If you read again, it says there were 65 million overseas viewers dodging the iplayer subscription by using a VPN. At €6.99/mth, it was a big loss of income. The suggestion is that all viewers would pay to access content, wherever in the world, in lieu of a licence fee in the UK. No pay, no BBC

  6. Bbc hater 31 July, 2015 at 17:39

    I dont watch the b.p.c so why should i have to pay for it, its outdated bullshite, (round my way they are know as british pedo corporation

  7. Dave 25 September, 2015 at 16:15

    I agree that auntie has to change….But lets put our hands up and say its still an amazing outfit….In times of trouble around the world….people tune in to the bbc…..

  8. JOJ 28 October, 2017 at 11:22

    I would be far more sympathetic towards the BBC if there were more thoughtful choices being made when allocating huge payments to secure so called popular talent The acounting for the massive amount money controlled by the BBC needs to be fully available to public scrutiny so that the British People are able to voice their opinion as a basic right for people obliged to pay the TV Tax upon theat of imprisoment

  9. Anonymous 3 November, 2017 at 09:52

    If BBC want the revenue then issue licences with serial numbers (perhaps they do). When logging into Iplayer you enter your serial number.

  10. Sicklizard 3 November, 2017 at 10:11

    Time for the Beeb to use advertising. Let’s face it everybody else does it, why not BBC?
    They could start with, for example BBC3, or 2 and if it proves to be successful then implement it on BBC1 after
    The article falsely mentions that the BBC iPlayer service was stopped in June, it is in fact still going, better than ever.
    On the face of it the TV licence is a good idea, but in the real world how many people actually pay it?
    A friend of mine who used to work for a well known huge appliance store said he was told to ALWAYS get the name and address of anybody who bought a television as those details were to be passed on to the television licensing people so that they could keep an eye on who was buying a licence and who was not buying one. In this way they could track down non payers far more easily than the ‘detector vans’ that used to roam our streets.
    Time for “Auntie” to move into the 21st century and take those mighty advertising dollars (or pounds) and join the rest of the world of television, after all would it make any difference to the quality of the programming? THAT is the BIG question….

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