19 Oct 2016

'Netflix killer': Viewers looking for alternatives

9:03 pm on 19 October 2016

The director behind an internet service marketed as a Sky TV and Netflix killer says he does not think it is allowing illegal viewing.

Netflix on a tablet

Netflix said bypassing its systems to access its services would violate its terms of service. Photo: 123RF

Hamilton-based NZ Streaming Boxes is selling smart set-top boxes that can stream thousands of channels, including sports such as the English football Premier League.

The company has previously been marketed as Bye Bye Sky and has sold close to 1000 boxes since starting a few months ago.

Internet law specialist Rick Shera said it could infringe copyright and Sky TV was likely to take action, while Netflix said bypassing its systems to access overseas networks would violate its terms of service.

But the director of NZ Streaming Boxes, who has asked only to be called Joe, said it was just putting existing technology in people's homes.

"The thing I need to be very clear on here is that the customisations that take place on these boxes when they come into the country and we program them is mainly around the graphical interface.

"So there are a lot of these boxes on the market, a lot of them aren't very user-friendly. And so for us it was around making these boxes a lot more user-friendly for consumers and everyday Kiwis in their home - rather than just being exclusive to the techies of our country."

The customisation wasn't geared or designed to access overseas streams and did not provide VPN to allow access to services such as the US version of Netflix, he said.

It did give people in places where Freeview was limited, such as Raglan, the chance to get channels.

"For me it's fantastic seeing a third of our customers were between the age group of 50 and 65 ... These people, and I hate generalising here but [they] don't even know what a stream is."

On its website, the product listed a number of channels including Sky Sports, ESPN and Animal Planet, which would normally sit behind a Sky paywall.

He said he did not think it was necessarily allowing illegal viewing.

"It's no different to somebody going and buying a computer at JB Hi-Fi or Noel Leeming and going onto a website and watching a stream of their favourite channel or sports show.

"I'm not a judge, all I can do is what I think is right and what is ethical"

While he could see why subscription-based services might look at what they could do about it, he said they needed to look at their own business models.

"A lot of the feedback I'm getting from our customers is that they seem to see their Sky bill go up and up and up but the benefits go down and down and down.

"People are going to find alternative to this because it's just not acceptable any more or certainly not to the people I've been speaking with."

'It'll probably get shut down fairly quickly'

Consumer technology writer Hadyn Green said it was an interesting idea but doubted it would take over from Sky.

"I don't want to say it's dodgy, but it definitely sounds dodgy but I can't see this being a major hindrance for Sky and definitely not for Netflix."

Watching over the internet was increasing so there would be more of this sort of thing popping up, Mr Green said.

"VPN and DNS systems put in place for people to get to US Netflix for example have been shut down pretty ruthlessly all through this year. So these sorts of companies that are coming out saying, 'Oh this box will work and you can get all these things' - probably not for very long. I'd imagine it'll probably get shut down fairly quickly."

Mr Shera said if the content being accessed was pay-to-view or geo-blocked and infringing copyright, the person providing the facility to access it could be liable.

If the product was imported directly and changed to allow copyright infringement, there would be an issue, he said.

"If I go and buy a plain vanilla box off Amazon or whatever and they haven't done anything to the box, and they're not promoting it for the purpose of infringing content, then Amazon's not going to be liable for authorising that infringement.

"But if they've done something to it and/or if they're promoting it or making it particularly useful for infringing content then they could be liable."

Sky was likely to take some kind of action, he said: "Not necessarily because they're particularly worried about this particular company but simply to put a line in the sand."

New Zealand Centre for ICT Law director David Harvey, a former district court judge, said there would be a problem if the service allowed people to bypass subscriptions.

"If they're making the stuff available and there're no charges for it, there is an issue there, that I think needs to be addressed.

"The licensees and various content providers and so on and so forth here in New Zealand will be looking at it very very carefully."

Sky TV chief executive John Fellet said, at this stage, he had no comment to make.

Netflix also declined to give a specific comment, but said bypassing its systems to access overseas networks would violate its terms of service.