Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Choosing censorship

Over the Christmas break, I saw a bit of Twitter mocking of the new Family First streaming video service. I love that this service exists. I won't use it, but everyone who hates censorship should celebrate this development.


There is even less need for a New Zealand Censor's Office to classify or censor online streaming options. The case for its doing so was always pretty dubious. The same technology that delivers the content also obviates the need for OFL classification: there isn't much that would stream in New Zealand that hasn't been rated overseas already, so under a reasonable regulatory regime that we do not currently have, they could just put on the overseas rating.

Reputation constraints already give Netflix and others sufficient motivation to avoid messing up the ratings: there would be ...adverse headlines... if one of them served up pornography under a G rating.

But suppose that there are some parents who:

  1. Just can't understand what the foreign ratings mean;
  2. Can't be bothered to look up more details about the content from any of the numerous sources available - even IMDB now has a "Parents Guide" for films;
  3. Want to make sure their kids don't see anything they find objectionable.
They now have a good option. Subscribe to the Family First option, set the controls for whatever language, violence, or adult themes you want, and done. The folks with high demand for this flip over to Family First; everyone else can be left alone. 

In New Zealand, I expect that rights arrangements are a fairly binding constraint. But as licenses expire and Netflix buys up worldwide distribution rights on a whole pile of content - including potentially weird foreign content that's never been NZ rated - the ratings regime is going to be a binding constraint. 

And then Netflix will have to decide whether to bother getting NZ ratings on a pile of fringe demand arthouse stuff, or just not offer that content to NZ subscribers. The latter's a lot easier - and especially since they can't really be outcompeted on this margin: Anybody who fronts the fixed costs of classification fronts them for every provider who wants to distribute that content. 

Would it really be that terrible to just let providers here use American, or European, classifications even for R-rated material when anybody can, in two clicks, find out anything they want to know about that content - and when those who are really really sensitive can just sign up to Family First?

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