having “exclusive rights” in a region is a remnant of the twentieth century’s mass media

The tyranny of digital distance is most often experienced by people outside of the United States, who are expected to wait a season to watch the next episodes of a TV series they’re interested in, who are blocked out of online content because the advertising sales haven’t been worked out for their country, or are banned from buying videos or certain songs on iTunes because intellectual property rights have only been cleared for the US. It’s immensely frustrating to be refused access to cultural works that you know are only being blocked for legal or commercial reasons – and there are many ways around the artificial blockages, as we all know: illegal downloads, buying a US gift card to iTunes (on ebay, for instance) and faking a US billing address, or using a proxy server so that the US website thinks your computer is in the US and gives you access to the content.

US residents face these problems less often – but Friday’s opening ceremony was an example. NBC has exclusive rights to broadcasting the Olympics in the US, and because of the time difference, they chose to delay broadcasting the opening ceremony for 12 hours. Of course, lots of people wanted to watch the ceremony live – and despite NBC’s hounding YouTube and various other sites into deleting the many uploaded videos, a lot of people found international video feeds. The New York Times quotes one watcher who watched a Brazilian feed:

ìIt wasnít the best quality,î Ms. Neary said of the video feed, ìand Iím sure it will be better on TV, but to watch that flame go up at the same time as the rest of the world was a beautiful, moving thing.î

I’m not that crazy about the Olympics, to be honest, but I do think that the internet makes us more aware of the whole of our planet – and as Ms Neary says, knowing that you’re watching something at the same time as everyone else is important to our sense of being part of the same world.

Another aspect of these cultural blockades where being outside of the US has been an advantage is baseball. In the US, if you’ve moved away from where the team you support is based you often won’t be able to watch their games because the local television stations won’t broadcast them. So MLB.tv lets you subscribe to watch all baseball games – except local ones, because the local television stations have exclusive rights to them. If you live outside of the US, you have no local games – so you can watch every baseball game live, no holds barred.

And watching television through your computer every bit as good as watching them on television if you have your computer hooked up to the TV, like we do. There’s no noticeable difference, so long as you have a good quality feed or download – except you have more control over what you watch and when you watch it.

10. August 2008 by Jill
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