If you are an African browsing the internet, no doubt you have run into the message above when trying to get some high quality entertainment from sites like Pandora, Netflix, Hulu and Vevo. Basically, the site tells you, “Sorry, this is not available in your region. Check back later to see if it has been made available.”
In the recent SOPA debate, the central issue was that there was a threat to block USA internet users from certain websites. There was a huge outrage that doing so would be against the rights of US citizens, and it would essentially break the internet. This was ironic to me, because US internet companies have long been guilty of blocking people from Africa from accessing certain websites.
These blockages are the biggest annoyance for me as an internet user, and for millions of other internet users all over Africa, it is definitely a big hinderance as well. One might say it even forces us to pirate material, since the legal methods are all locked down by these regional restrictions.
The reasons usually given for the censorship of foreign content are:
1. Licensing issues, (for example here). The site then usually tells you that they are working hard to get a license for your area.
2. The need to attract ‘high end advertisers,’ as stated on Vevo’s Wikipedia page.
These reasons all seem well and good at first, but here’s why I raise my suspicions of discrimination:
– I have never seen a major American entertainment website come out and say that they have now acquired the license for Africans to consume their content. The ‘Coming Soon’ message seems like a placebo in most cases.
– Global licensing should be a major issue if companies like Netflix were serving local content. But this is not the case. Netflix mostly serves movies that were made in the USA. If there are licensing issues, then it is because the owners of the movies have a problem with them being broadcast in places like Africa. What problem could this be, pray tell?
– If a company has a need to attract high end advertisers, that might be reason for them to conclude that Africa is just not worth their time.
– How come Vevo’s YouTube channel is available in my area, yet Vevo.com is unavailable in my area? Isn’t it the exact same content?
I know it’s a long shot, but I would like to invite some of the powers that be in these big entertainment websites to discuss this matter in the comment section below. It would be nice if you cleared up the matter for us Africans.