Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: How New Zealand could solve Australia's Netflix problem

Netflix Australia is saying that if they have to have their content classified by the censors, it would need to delay popular movies releases for Australians. Photo / File Photo
Netflix Australia is saying that if they have to have their content classified by the censors, it would need to delay popular movies releases for Australians. Photo / File Photo

Australia's really struggling these days, not just on the rugby pitch but with getting to grips with technology.

The latest calamity across the Tasman involves Netflix, which has had to submit on Australia's proposed digital convergence law update to point out that applying the old way of doing things just isn't going to work in in the internet age.

Netflix is saying that if they and other streaming video on-demand providers have to have their content classified by the censors, it would need to delay popular movies releases for Australians.

Working out if a movie is G, PG, M or R and putting the appropriate label on a large library of content simply takes too long Netflix said (presumably this still applies to the provider's smaller Aussie catalogue as well).

It's also expensive, costing content publishers and providers well over a grand per movie (in New Zealand, probably more in Australia).

We all know what happens when popular releases are held back: people will try to get them some other way, some of which won't be legal.

Netflix is proposing a self-classification system for providers, similar to what the gaming industry has.

It could save itself a great deal of effort however, by telling the Australian government to look at what New Zealand is proposing with our Digital Convergence Bill.

While "capturing online content", the proposed law makes allowances for how the internet works.

Providers such as Netflix will be treated the same broadcast TV, minister Adams' office tells me.

That means Netflix, Lightbox and others won't need to pre-classify content, either themselves or via a local body.

Instead, the providers are expected to work out the community standards that apply to local broadcast TV stations, and adhere to those. If not, and viewers complain, the Broadcasting Standards Authority steps in and investigates - and penalises if the providers have done wrong.

That's potentially an elegant and workable solution which should result in minimal delays for New Zealand viewers, provided of course that Netflix and others bother to figure what's OK to broadcast locally, and what isn't.

The changes to the Broadcasting Act in the Digital Convergence Bill to include streaming video providers are unusually sensible, along with making sure that user-generated content on YouTube and Facebook doesn't fall under the Film, Videos and Publications Act and have to go vetted by the censor's office.

There is still some way to go before minister Adams and the government can pat itself on the back for being tech-savvy though. This is after all the same government that drove out world-beating software defined network (SDN) research by Victoria University from New Zealand, courtesy of the vague Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act or TICSA last year.

The SDN project left our shores after researchers couldn't get clarity from the Government Communications Security Bureau if they had to report each and every network configuration change, or not.

The law seems to say changes have to be reported, and that's not going to work with SDN which is built to accommodate quick configuration switches sometimes several times a second. There's just no way GCSB's vetting could keep up with that.

More than a year on, SDN is still the Next Big Thing for network providers and telcos. For the United States National Security Agency (NSA) too, incidentally, which has no issues with the technology.

New Zealand could've lead the field here, but sadly, the government cybered up the law so now the SDN breakthroughs happen overseas instead.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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