Be wary of illegal sites, warn experts

More New Zealanders are choosing to stream movies online rather than head down to the local DVD shop - but many may be watching them illegally.

The popularity of streaming videos, watching them in real time, has grown since illegal downloading was targeted by the "three strikes" copyright amendment law.

The good news is the changing face of screen entertainment means there is more choice than ever.

Operators such as Quickflix, iTunes and Ezyflix offer online movies here. New Zealanders can also access US giant Netflix via VPN or Slingshot and Orcon's Global Mode, which removes the provider's geographical restrictions. Sky TV is launching its own subscription on-demand service, Neon, next month.

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But the limited range of movies on offer through providers here is leading film fans to other sources, says technology commentator Peter Griffin. "The rights to these big titles are so complex that it's rare to find one provider that has everything. iTunes is the closest but it's relatively expensive," he says.

"You might pay $10 for a Netflix subscription, then buy one-offs from Apple to get the right mix of movies."

He said many people were accessing illegal streaming sites instead.

"Huge numbers of people are just googling and then clicking in the link and they don't know if it's a legitimate source or not."

He said it was common for classic or well-known movies to be available through illicit streaming sites.

Spark spokesman Richard Llewellyn confirmed that streaming rates were increasing but he said it was hard to tell how much of it was legitimate. He said the number of streaming options was increasing quickly. Spark recently launched Lightbox, which offers streaming of television shows.

Slingshot general manager Taryn Hamilton said streaming traffic was growing at 2 times the rate of peer-to-peer. "People are also streaming HD video. Peer-to-peer is growing at its slowest rate since the technology was introduced."

However, Slingshot did not monitor how much of the streaming was legal, he said.

"It's not an ISPs place to monitor or censor the internet. People expect ISPs to respect their privacy - and we wholeheartedly agree. We think people should pay for content and that's why we offer Global Mode, so Kiwis can get access to great content at a reasonable price."

The physical DVD rental market is now worth about only $85m a year, down from $179m in 2004 and $123m in 2012. Video Ezy has launched a video-on-demand rental platform, available through Samsung Smart TVs' Smart Hub.

Video Ezy spokesman Stuart Howard said it had looked at video on demand and decided to examine what potential it had as an additional distribution method.

Copyright infringements attract penalties from a few hundred dollars up to $15,000, though serious offenders can face prison time.

However, rights-holders haven't typically gone after end-consumers, instead using detection technology to target content providers

Griffin said the biggest barrier to watching online had been a lack of decent broadband. "But that's less of a problem now. Even copper connections can handle video streaming. The move to fibre will make it even easier."