The Day Netflix Became Stupid

As a systems administrator of 21 years, 7 of which has been spent working in the film industry for two Academy award-winning companies (one winning an Academy science-tech award for their contribution to the VFX and post-production community), I can tell you that there is nothing worse dealing with a Big Content company such as Netflix and telling them they’re plain wrong about something, only to be brushed away like a pesky fly.

The bother surrounds Netflix’s download function on iOS devices.  At the moment I’m downloading TV shows like Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Deep Space Nine to watch while I’m commuting to work.  I’ll do this on my home internet connection via Sky Broadband if I remember, otherwise, if I have good 4GEE Max connectivity on my phone connection, I’ll use that.

ALAS!

As people have been using VPNs to circumvent geoblocking and accessing content that hasn’t been licensed to a particular country or region, Netflix has been coming down hard on IP connections that do not match the country in which the account is in.  However, this is a lot more complicated in practice because of the complete lack of IPv4 addresses (with many blocks being re-allocated from different countries) and things like the ARIN/RIPE databases not being up to date, or any other geolocation database from any third parties not being particularly inaccurate.  There are many other considerations to take into account too.

Recently, while attempting to download an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine on the Netflix iOS app on my iPhone X, one episode downloaded.  The next failed.  And the following episode also failed to download.  I was at Woking station at the time, waiting for the train, and had good 4G connectivity.  I should mention I also have a highly generous bandwidth allowance from EE too.  Upon looking up an error code (what is it with error codes – please make errors more meaningful!) it apparently meant that I was using a VPN or proxy and should disable it.

ALAS again!

I’m not.  No VPN connection.  A proxy?  Only if EE is transparently routing me through some form of web proxy.  But that doesn’t explain how previous downloads have all worked perfectly well when connected to the EE 4GEE Max network.

Now, if EE is doing some form of proxying to cache/reduce the load on their network, the IP address blocks which they use should show that it is coming from the UK.  Every EE block I’ve looked at is designated GB as the country of origin.  But Netflix wasn’t having any of it.  Looking at the IP I had been allocated through several iOS apps and mobile Google Chrome (just use the query, “What’s my IP?”) and using a Mac terminal to WHOIS the IP, it’s in the UK.  So I went online to chat with a Netflix representative..

You
Netflix says ‘There was a problem with this download. (10013)’~~https://help.netflix.com/en/node/59986
Carolina Netflix
Hi there, thanks for reaching us today. I see that you are experiencing error code 10013 Click Here in this case you would need to disable any vpn connection
You
I’m not using any kind of VPN or peering software. I’m directly connected to my phone provider’s 4G network.
You
Netflix systems are misidentifying the IP address. At the moment, it is 213.205.194.220 according to Googling “what’s my IP?” in Chrome mobile browser.
You
route: 213.205.192.0/20descr: EE routeorigin: AS12576mnt-by: AS12576-mntcreated: 2012-12-07T14:43:16Zlast-modified: 2015-04-27T10:21:30Zsource: RIPE
Carolina Netflix
Can you please check the ip address you have by following the steps on this article Click Here ?
You
But I’ve already done that as evidenced by the the above – full output from WHOIS: inetnum:  (snipped for brevity – the key point is country: GB
Carolina Netflix
If you are getting that error message, it’s because we have identified a different ip address and we are unable to know what is your physicall address, that’s why the service was stopped. Now, to recover the access you would need to get in contact with your ISP to request an IP address that matches the country in which you’re located.
You
How about putting some diagnostics into the Netflix iOS apps that can display this info as well as report back that info to you guys, because all I can do is repeat the IP address and IP block that I’ve given you based on information obtained from Google in a mobile Chrome session.
Carolina Netflix
What happens Martyn is that our service is not designed to work with VPNs or proxy connections. You may have trouble using our service when connected to one, and since this is the case, you would need to disable them and we cannot do it on our end. That’s why we recommend you to get in contact with your ISP so they can assist you better provinding you the reason why this is happening and the right resolution to go back to streaming
You
The responsibility for me to prove where I am should not be mine. Having worked as a systems administrator in the film industry (2 academy award winning VFX companies) managing networks, I find this sort of thing extremely frustrating.
You
Just as a matter of interest, what are your systems reporting back as the IP I’m connecting from. If I have to speak to EE about this, I need some evidence from your side.
Carolina Netflix
Sorry about that Martyn, this has to be done with the ISP, they are the proper team that can fixed this inconvenience on your end.
Carolina Netflix
This error code Click Here provide us the steps to work on, and it recommends to contact the ISP

I don’t believe it should be up to the Netflix subscriber to contact their ISP.  It should absolutely 100% be on Netflix to take the report given to it by the subscriber and work with the ISP concerned to determine how they’re connecting to the Netflix network.  In order to do this, Netflix should be building diagnostics into their applications so that everybody can see the IP address and network that’s connecting to the Netflix network.  I can only provide the IP address I see to EE (who have reached out, which is kind, but I don’t believe they need to act on my behalf – it should Netflix who should be doing so).

What did Netflix actually see when I attempted to download those episodes?  Given that I work with multiple third-party network providers (Akamai, Limelight and CloudFlare to name but a few) in which a customer’s real IP is carried through a number of proxies, we can still determine with reasonable accuracy where they’re coming from.  It’s important for us because we need to allow/deny to various internal systems based on the real IP.  Granted, that IP is likely to be static, and granted, we know in advance where they’re connecting from regardless of whether or not that is a VPN endpoint.  I appreciate this is rather more complicated in Netflix’s situation.

We are in this mess because of Big Content and people trying to circumvent restrictions.  Hollywood is still a massive headache for everybody (and belive me, as a former film/TV sysadmin, Hollywood.   Piracy is still a massive headache for everybody.  Rights are still a massive headache for everybody.  But please, don’t make it any harder on the consumer/subscriber than it is necessary to do so, else people will simply go elsewhere.  I’m finding that I’m buying more content from iTunes than I am consuming from Netflix and Amazon because Apple makes it easier for me to watch their content.  We just need Apple to offer TV shows in UltraHD/4K where available and offer iTunes Extras for TV shows and we’re good.  As for the Apple TV streaming service, let’s hope it works as well as iTunes film/TV.

When streaming services and more ISPs support IPv6 – now that’s going to be FUN!  Though, in theory, it should help things along a bit.  Providing everybody keeps their IP allocation entries up to date with the relevant Internet authorities.

At the moment I’m still deciding whether to keep my Netflix subscription or not based on that exchange.  I hate being made to jump through hoops to get something working because of something that isn’t my fault.  I have contracts with both Netflix and EE, but the responsibility for me being allowed to watch those shows should be on Netflix.  If the cell/ISP throttles or restricts video streaming, why shouldn’t I be allowed to use a VPN to access it (providing endpoint is the same country as my account)?  Mind you, if that were the case, I wouldn’t be using that kind of ISP in the first place – have always avoided those sorts,

The day Netflix came to town..

Currently airing on the Netflix, the subscription internet TV streaming service is a title called The End of the F***ing World.  It is an adaptation of a graphic novel and was made by E4 and Netflix.

Sometime in early May 2017, I received the following letter – as did all my neighbours – about upcoming filming on our street.  For me, having worked on a fair number of Hollywood blockbusters in my time (granted, in the post-production sector – though I did do a bit of travelling and got to studios and even set visits on the odd occasion), the whole thing felt surreal.  I blanked out bits to protect phone numbers and locations.

I only started seeing them set-up for the filming on the day itself (one day after my 41st birthday!) as I had to head to work, but the final shots can be seen in the cafe sequence in episode one of The End of The F***ing World in which our two protagonists (or maybe even antagonists – it’s certainly not a black and white situation) are having something to eat – you can see the road I live on (but thankfully not my house) in the background.

As for the show itself?  It’s extremely dark.  Somebody compared it to a really messed up Wes Anderson film.  I kind of thought it felt like Harold & Maude, but except Maude being a teenager and a lot more antagonistic (at least in the beginning).  Whatever you compare it to, the whole thing is a very dark tale.  But it must be said that the performances from the two leads are outstanding, and production values are top notch.

To boldly go.. where Klingons chew wasps

Star Trek Discovery is a rather interesting show.  It fits more within the J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe than it does the original Gene Roddenberry one – with fancy computers, holographic communication, and a decidedly non-kitsch set dressing.

Even the Klingons have been given an upgrade – long gone is the Cornish pasty forehead and in comes a ton of rubber and latex and extraordinary false teeth.  And while it looks good, the actors clearly can’t speak properly with their falsies in, so it’s just as well they’ve given the Klingon actors lines entirely in Klingon.  If you’ve never heard of the Klingon language, it’s has a very guttural sound to it.  Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog were naturals (well, Spit the Dog was – absolutely fluent in Klingon – he just never knew it). I’m quite surprised that none of the actors are covered in each other’s spit and drool at the end of each scene.  And as for the Klingon costumes – they’re so rigid looking, you might as well be dealing with Daleks.  Daleks with Austin Powers teeth.

The albino Klingon called Voq (pronounced *coughs up hairballs* Vochhhhhhh *spits*) partly resembles one of the Prometheus/Alien Covenant engineers.  The prosthetics defining facial muscle tone and shape that without the ridges and bumps, you’d practically get an Engineer.

As you may be able to tell, I think they’ve ever so overdone the Klingons this time around.  It’s as if they’ve put them in the oven, went off on a 24-hour bender, then come back to an overcooked dinner.  How the actors deal with all that stuff is quite remarkable.  The overall effect DOES look great – but practical wise, let the poor actors can’t form words properly without looking as if they’re chewing wasps.  There’s only so many teeth one can hold in one’s mouth.  And give them clothing that doesn’t make them look as if they’ve added 60 tonnes of starch to their laundry.

The latest episode of Discovery resembles a mash-up of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets Dune.  At one point I was sure the crew of The Discovery were going to initiate the Infinite Improbability Drive and all end up as penguins or missing their limbs floating in space.  As for the “navigator” – very spice melange if I may say so.  Very spice melange.

All in all, it’s an interesting journey so far.  Well presented (albeit the Klingons do need to go to the dentist and look for better stylists) and entertaining.

American Gods: Will it ever be released on UHD Blu-Ray or 4K UHD iTunes?

As much as I loved the first season of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods on Amazon Prime Video UK, I’m reluctant to buy it on Blu-Ray or it’s current version on iTunes for one particular reason: while it was shot in Ultra-High Definition (aka 4K), and I can watch it as often as I like on Amazon in UHD, I can’t buy it in any form in UHD – especially UHD Blu-Ray.

It’s a bit ironic that American Gods has a character called Technical Boy who “invites” people into his limousine via virtual reality.  In reality, however, I cannot easily buy a TV series in UHD.

The biggest problem with the TV industry at the moment is that only a subset of it (generally the two largest online streaming services – Netflix & Amazon Prime Video) is producing content in UHD.  It is also still costly to mass produce UHD content on physical media.  In the film industry, for example, not all films are given releases in UHD. Only the really big blockbuster movies are getting the UHD Blu-Ray treatment at the moment, and those cost between £20-£25 each, about £10-15 more than regular Blu-Ray.

Making UHD content available to buy via download or streaming is a different matter.  Though that too introduces some hurdles.   Do you really get to keep the content?  As I found out recently with the BBC Store – if that goes away, so does any content you’ve bought.  But thankfully the BBC refunded me entirely and even gave me a bit of a bonus to use with Amazon – for streaming content (whether to rent or buy – I used it to rent).

Apple is said to be announcing a 4K/UHD capable Apple TV next week.  This is all well and good, but unless Apple has 4K content to go with it, the upgrade won’t be worth it.  The 4th generation Apple TV has been okay for the most part, and practically all my HD content I’ve purchased (or rented) has been excellent (with the exception of Breaking Bad – we need iTunes Extra for TV shows, Apple!).  But the biggest problem with the Apple TV has been the lack of support from UK broadcasters.  I’m still waiting for ITV Hub, Channel 4, Channel 5 and other UK broadcasters to pull their fingers out of their bottoms and develop their catch-up apps for it.

But I still concede that iTunes/Apple TV is still the best method of buying and keeping content.  If Apple can get 4K/UHD on there, it’ll be a start.

I believe it’s about time that at least one broadcasting company steps up to bat and starts to invest in UHD outside of just making content and streaming it as part of a subscription service.  It has taken a very, very long time to get to UHD/4K televisions, and yet support for it outside the streaming ecosystem is still very poor.

Starz – please let me buy American Gods in UHD.  Either in UHD Blu-Ray or via iTunes (in 4K/UHD) when the hardware is available.  Or even both!

Halt and Catch Fire: Irony Edition

I’ve previously mentioned how AMC, the US-based TV broadcaster, has about as much grasp on international marketing and promotion on Twitter as a badger has for astrophysics.

Well, they’ve just taken that to a whole new level.  A TV show called Halt and Catch Fire, which I’ve watched all three seasons within the past few weeks, is about to start season 4.  So AMC are promoting it.  It’ll be on Amazon Prime UK too.  But, as they’ve done for Better Call Saul, any clips are strictly limited to the US only.

The irony is that season 4 of the show, which is a fictional drama that’s set around key points of the computer industry in the 80’s and 90’s (season 1 – IBM clones, season 2- starting up a BBS/online gaming company, season 3- much the same, with hints of the internet about to come on the scene) .  Season 4 will heavily feature the internet.  The same internet which I can’t view AMC’s clips because they’ve geoblocking all video on social media and on their web site.

Again, the official social media from AMC doesn’t cater for international users.

Halt and Catch Fire, along with HBO’s Silicon Valley which is also a favourite, is a brilliantly written and performed show that combines a strong storyline with the crazy technologies that I fell in love with as a kid.