Why is it so hard to watch foreign TV in the streaming era?


It looks like it's the end of the party for streaming services. Prices are going up, choice is going down, and the quality is declining.

Despite all the hype about how transformative streaming would be for the industry - there's one thing which never really seemed to take off. It's almost impossible to find "foreign" TV on Netflix, Apple, Prime, and the BBC.

Outside of a few breakout movie hits - like "Space Sweepers / 승리호" - there's a dearth of non-English content for me to watch.

Take Der Tatortreiniger. A hugely successful German comedy1 which was remade by the BBC into "The Cleaner". Despite having half-a-dozen streaming options available to me, it is nowhere to be found. If I used a VPN and told Netflix I was in Germany, there are no English subtitles available.

The only way for me to watch it is to buy the US region DVDs.

Even if German comedies are too niche for mainstream Anglophone viewers, isn't that the whole fucking point of the "long tail"?

The extra storage costs for a couple of GB of video are a rounding error to Netflix. An extra entry in the database is nothing. So what's the problem?

In my naïvety, I assumed that streaming services only paid royalties on a per-minute basis. But it seems that it is a lot more complicated than that.

And even if streaming services could accurately report on how popular shows are, lots of media companies are bound up in territorial thinking. Shows are sold to countries and regions. They are explicitly locked behind geographic firewalls. That's what determines the shows you are allowed to view. The Internet is meant to obliterate borders. You can sell to customers all over the world! No barriers!

I know the Long Tail Theory has been mostly discredited. And I know that the ALGORITHM is going to suggest shows which are more profitable rather than more entertaining.

I just wish the world was more open. I want to watch an Iranian sit-com, a Kiwi Biopic, a Korean melodrama, a French documentary, and - yes - a weird German comedy.

I don't want my viewing choices to be artificially restricted.

In the background, a chorus of disgruntled viewers start chanting "Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"


  1. Sounds like an oxymoron - but it is excellent

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15 thoughts on “Why is it so hard to watch foreign TV in the streaming era?”

  1. says:

    @Edent That’s a massive pain point for me as an expat. My understanding is the right holders of many movies (especially classics) can't be bothered to licence their content via specific deals in every country.

    Reply
  2. says:

    @Edent … so while the technology massively reduced the cost of broadcasting content to another country, it did nothing to reduce the overhead of managing licensing rights across countries.

    Reply
  3. @Edent What are you on about? Since I subscribed to #Netflix I've never watched so much foreign TV.

    Better Than Us, Squid Game, Dark, Ingovernable, Dead End, Katla, To The Lake, Borgen, Gangs of Oslo, Inhuman Resources, Fauda, I could go on.
    netflix

    Reply
  4. @Edent The state of streaming has been a massive disappointment to me.

    Even in Canada with fewer streamers available to us, it's become too disjointed & expensive. We cut our $100 cable bill, I don't want to replace that cost with a ton of services. We currently pay for Netflix, Disney+ and Prime. And we will sub then cancel AppleTV & Crave to binge shows temporarily. We also buy some shows via GoogleTV.

    But there are still a lot of shows I just can't find legally like Battlebots. 😞

    Reply
  5. @Edent One of my biggest headaches is even just figuring out how to watch something without digging through vague keyword stuffed websites.

    I can't believe no one made a website database of all shows & where to stream them per-country. This would be an awesome thing to crowd source.

    Reply
  6. @Edent The whole mess has become so unfriendly to users, and increasingly expensive, that I've even scaled back my consumption of broadcast entertainment & shifted a bit more to reading & video games.

    Reply
  7. Tailscale's just announced support AppleTV's tvOS 17, so in theory you could find like-minded persons in France, Germany, Korea, US, and build a mesh network cooperative to work around geoblocking.

    Australia once threatened to ban geoblocking altogether, as it was primarily used for price-gouging, the same content was significantly more expensive in Oz than in the US. I don't think they ended up going ahead with the threat though, Ruper Murdoch's death grip on the country's politics being what it is.

    Reply
  8. @blog This is the reason why I still believe in radio. Stations like Radio Paradise pay attention to what is good, not popular. Also in Germany I feel like radio stations like WDR4 still offer space for actual good music. I have a love / hate relationship with Deezer. It is unstable, their catalog fits my musical taste however, except for it sucks terribly that I cannot listen to the Belgian music I grew up with just because I now live in Germany. Streaming is messed up and you phrased it well.

  9. @blog @Edent it’s not streaming but I’d heartily recommend a good DVB Tuner and a rotatable antenna (by hand is fine, no need to go fancy… I know what you’re like!).

    Sure, you can’t really get much of Asia (unless you’re really committed to moon bounce!) but it’s really good for the EU block. As a German student, I’m able to pick up Germany and most other countries fairly well. Especially as there’s quite a bit of multiplexing cooperation between neighbours.

    And if it doesn’t work out too well, widely hacked drivers can get those things doing some wonderful stuff with things like SDR#.

  10. @blog I'd say this is even worse in areas where minority languages are spoken. In the past, local TV played a key role in normalising them in every context, from cartoons for kids to news, and obviously films. Now all these local cultures are being lost because of that

  11. Rob says:

    I have to say, I've watched more foreign drama than English on Netflix of late. For mainstream stuff, the fragmentation of the market is annoying, and expensive. We sub to Netflix and Prime, and maybe one other thing for a month at a time. But I also resort to less-legal means to get stuff, particularly old things that just aren't available anywhere.

    Reply

What are your reckons?

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