The pros and cons of Lightbox

Our technology writer has been trialling Spark's new service.

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Lightbox has announced its launch date: Thursday 28 August.

I was given access to the beta and here are my first impressions.

  • The user interface (UI) is exactly the same as Netflix, but with one important difference - it’s much easier to find the stuff you want.
  • There is a good selection of content with a lot of older TV shows and some newer ones. This includes a lot of shows they have yet to announce, such as shows from Comedy Central like South Park.
  • It’s very simple and intuitive to use.
  • I used Lightbox on my iPad and streamed it through my Apple TV using AirPlay. This all worked very well and without glitches.
  • Watching the shows on a TV was a much more pleasant experience than viewing on my tablet. But I was only able to do this because I have an Apple TV. We have to wait and see if Lightbox develop any apps for TVs like TVNZ and TV3 did.

Right now, I would say that Lightbox could be a great option for streaming entertainment in New Zealand. For the content that’s available in the beta I don’t know if it’s worth $15 a month. The addition of newer shows and more New Zealand content may bring that worth up.

I’ve done a brief comparison of the services currently available in New Zealand for streaming, which may give you an idea of the market at the moment.

The new Sky service doesn’t have a name yet (SVOD stands for “streaming video on demand”) or many details but it is going to be launched sometime this year. We do know that it will have content from HBO (Game of Thrones, True Blood, et al) that other services don’t have, but we don’t know how current it will be. If you are a Sky subscriber it will be free with your package, there are no details for the price for non-subscribers.

Sky have also partnered with Vodafone to launch this service. Again it’s unknown if this will mean Vodafone customers get a better service than non-Vodafone customers.

Services compared

Lightbox Netflix Quickflix TVNZ On-Demand TV3 Now Sky SVOD iTunes
Cost/month ($) 15 15* 13 Free Free ?? 0*
Movies no yes yes no no yes yes
New releases no no yes no no ?? yes
TV shows yes yes yes yes yes yes no
Latest season yes some no yes yes ?? no
Full series yes yes yes no no ?? no
Pay per view no no yes no no ?? yes

Guide to the table

*The cost of Netflix is actually a combination of the subscription cost (~$9.50) and the price of a service like Unblock-Us (~$5.50). If you are using Slingshot’s Global mode, the cost will only be ~$9.50 on top of your monthly ISP fees.

**Quickflix has new movies and TV shows that they list as “Premium” that cost extra to view on top of your monthly subscription.

***An Apple account is required. There is no monthly fee, just pay per view or you can purchase a digital copy to own.

UPDATE (26 August): Sky TV have confirmed that they will have movies available as part of their SVOD service.

The legality of Netflix

We consulted with a number of copyright law experts and all of them agreed that accessing Netflix from New Zealand is in no way illegal. For this section I'm going to use "Netflix" to represent all online streaming services not based in New Zealand such as Hulu and Amazon Prime, but also services from Australia and the UK.

First, as we have mentioned many times in the past, in New Zealand you are allowed to legally circumvent geoblocks. For example, you are allowed to buy a multizone DVD player in order to watch Zone 1 DVDs that are meant only for the US. Similarly if you find content online that says "this is not available in your country", you are legally allowed to get around that block.

The broadcast rights for a lot of the content on Netflix is owned by local providers such as Sky or TVNZ. New Zealand has parallel importing laws which allow you to bypass the local distributor. This is true for the physical goods that you might buy from The Warehouse and it's also true for digital products, such as movies and TV shows online.

There is no differentiation in the law between physical and digital objects. So in essence watching Netflix is simply a new form of parallel importing.

The main reason accessing Netflix isn't illegal though is that you are paying for it. The content you are accessing is being sold to you legitimately. It is in no way piracy.

Member comments

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Craig W.
25 Aug 2014
Question about the legality of downloads etc

I see that you've mentioned getting around Geoblocks, like NetFlix is legal, due to our parallel importing laws and the fact that you are paying for it, but what does that mean for downloading copyright material?
If I was to sign up for newsgroups or torrents (hypothetically of course!), and pay a membership fee, or a fee per download, could those same parallel import laws protect me for that?
There would be some differences obviously, such as the source of the file, but as you have stated, there is no differentiation between physical and digital objects, so it would appear to be a bit of a grey area?

Previous member
26 Aug 2014
No grey area

Not really, what you are describing is copyright infringement as there is no distribution agreement in place at all.

Netflix has an agreement, just not for our region. Buying content from them still results in the content creators getting money. Torrent sites don't send distribution fees to the content creators. This is the real world equivalent of purchasing bootleg DVDs.

Parallel import laws are very clear: the product must be sold legitimately in order for it to be imported legally.

Craig W.
01 Sep 2014
Thanks

I expected it to be something along those lines. I still don't really understand how it can be legal to circumvent geo-blocking under NZ law, and yet still illegal to download content from a source other than the original, but I guess that's why someone else gets paid the big bucks to create and police this sort of legislation. Surely, by getting around the geo-block, you are breaching the terms and conditions of the site you are accessing the material from, and therefore breaking the law in that country or jurisdiction?

Previous member
02 Sep 2014
Explanation

"I still don't really understand how it can be legal to circumvent geo-blocking under NZ law, and yet still illegal to download content from a source other than the original"

Geoblocks say: if you are from New Zealand then you aren't allowed to watch this content. Just like DVD region codes. You still have to pay for the content.

Torrent sites give you access to content from an illegitimate source. No money gets back to the content creator.

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"Surely, by getting around the geo-block, you are breaching the terms and conditions of the site you are accessing the material from, and therefore breaking the law in that country or jurisdiction?"

You are almost certainly breaking the T&C, but that is NOT the same as breaking the law. At most you are breaking contract terms and so the contract can be terminated at any time. But that's about the extent of it.