T3 Opinion: Star Wars could kill Canada’s interweb tubes

With the only Netflix servers to carry Star Wars: The Force Awakens based in Canada could VPN-ing slow its network to a crawl?

So I'm going to make a prediction. Well, it's more of a guess really, but an educated one I think. Now normally trying to make tech predictions is something akin to sticking a digit in your gob and holding it up to the wind, but this one's got a good chance of being dead on balls accurate.

It's an industry term...

So, my prediction: come next Summer one of the biggest search terms is going to be 'how to access Netflix Canada.'

As the only Netflix territory in the world to get streaming rights to the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, there's going to be an awful lot of the 70-odd million Netflix subscribers looking for a way to pretend they're a virtual Canuck.

Because of a quirk of licensing The Force Awakens isn't going to be available on Netflix throughout the rest of the world. Netflix Canada signed its Disney dealings to begin at the start of this year while the rest of world's deals don't come into effect until January 1 2016. So, Netflix will be getting the streaming rights to the rest of the new Star Wars trilogy, as well as the Anthology titles, but not the initial bound-to-be box office smash.

The Netflix Canada deal means The Force Awakens will appear on its servers around eight months after the original theatrical release. That would place it some time around the end of August, counting back from the December 18 premiere.

That's when the rest of the Netflix world is going to start getting really interested in the possibilities using a VPN (virtual private network) service can offer.

Is VPN-ing piracy?

Already the action of accessing Netflix servers outside of your home country is being seen as something very close to piracy, especially by the rights holders. But restricting, and enforcing such restrictions, on VPN-ing is practically impossible.

It's a concern for Netflix, mostly because the people it's striking deals with are concerned about people from outside the ring-fenced areas of licensing accessing their content.

“It's a concern to the extent the rightful owner of the content is upset,” Netflix's Chief Product Officer, Neil Hunt, told me back in September. “And we're upset too so we have to do something about it. We do take the standard industry precautions of blocking non-VPN sites but of course that's a bit of a whack-a-mole game and they move around all the time.”

Right now though Netflix thinks the actual amount of VPN use is overblown, mostly because there just isn't the necessary capacity to deal with large amounts of it.

“If you VPN from the UK into the US, not only the authorisation and the rights have to come from the US, but the media itself has to come the US too,” explained Hunt. “That means it's not travelling the last mile on your broadband connection from our local server, it's travelling from our server in Virginia or Seattle or wherever it is. It's travelling a really long distance on the pipes, subject to other congestion. My guess is there isn't capacity for vast amounts of VPN-ing to be going on.”

Right now I would agree with the Netflix assessment.

To access the different territory's content (seriously, the Scandinavian and Dutch catalogues are awesome) requires messing around with the browser interface and various, potentially nefarious, plugins. Getting your TV app or mobile device around the location checks is a much tougher task, and most of us simply won't bother.

But with the prospect of Star Wars: The Force Awakens being available on Netflix somewhere in the world there's going to be an awful lot of people outside Canada thinking they're paying their subscription so they're owed some Star Wars lovin'.

And I'm willing to bet we're going to find out if Netflix Canada's pipes are going to be big enough to cope with the global demand which might well be coming its way next year.

Or will Netflix be forced to do something more serious in its efforts to stamp down on VPN-ing?

“We don't think there's a big opportunity to do much more to stamp it down,” said Hunt, “but I don't actually think it's that big of a material issue.”

We'll see...after all, the Force is strong with this one.