Rebellion and its availability in Northern Ireland

A pet peeve of mine has long been that pesky geo-block on the RTE player that prevents me from watching certain programmes that I have missed.

Last night, I noticed a few people on Twitter commenting about the fact that the 1916 drama, Rebellion was not available in Northern Ireland.

In that spirit I decided to get in touch with RTE to understand what exactly was going on and why programmes like this were blocked for Northern viewers, despite RTE being available in Northern Ireland.

Low and behold RTE inform me that;

The rights for Rebellion have been cleared by RTÉ to be made available to viewers in all 32 counties on the island of Ireland.

However;

if a user’s computer IP address indicates that they are located outside of the island of Ireland, their access will be blocked.

Unfortunately this is outside of RTÉ’s control as the IP address is issued by Internet Service providers directly to their customers. RTÉ certainly hopes that the series is seen by as many viewers as possible in all 32 counties. We would advise users to contact their service provider on this issue.

How does it work?

RTÉ Player enables access from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland using geo-access technology. Geo-access works on the basis that each computer has an individual IP number which acts like an address. This number is supplied to the computer by the user’s Internet Service Provider (ISP). Occasionally, a viewer in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland may have been issued with an IP address that indicates they are located outside the territory, and consequently they may be unable to gain access to content on RTÉ Player that does not have international rights.

But some bad news for international viewers;

Rebellion has not been cleared for international users on RTÉ Player International. Sundance TV will air the series in the US and the series is being marketed internationally by Zodiak Media and has already attracted significant interest from broadcasters abroad. We hope that it will be seen and enjoyed by as many viewers as possible in Ireland and around the world.

So the problem actually lies with the internet providers, rather than RTE’s geo-block.

 

  • Ulick

    Not to worry, RTEs reliance on outdated Flash technology to stream video content means most people in the Free State can’t look at it either.

  • Ernekid

    RTE have form with failing their audience in the six counties. It’s no mean feat to get a decent RTE FM radio signal in most of Belfast and Co. Antrim and they frequently block the broadcasts of League of Ireland coverage and Ireland Internationals in the North. Only certain Freeview TVs receive RTE channels in Northern Ireland as well. For a 32 county broadcaster they often fail a lot of their Northern audience. If RTE put their DAB service on an all-Ireland frequency I’d be a lot happier.

  • epg_ie

    Well, in this regard if no other, NI gets what it pays for.

  • Andrew Gallagher

    “So the problem actually lies with the internet providers, rather than RTE’s geo-block.”

    Hogwash. ISPs are under no obligation to make sure their addresses correspond to an identifiable geographic location. IP addresses are a scarce resource, and ISPs regularly reshuffle their allocations to make sure they don’t run out as their subscriber levels fluctuate. The geoIP people know this only too well, as keeping up with e changes is what they’re paying their employees for.

    It is entirely RTE’s responsibility, because they didn’t take seriously the small print on their geoIP contract that says (roughly) “this geoIP database is provided on a best effort basis and is not legally binding”.

  • By most accounts, no one is missing a great deal.

  • Brendan Heading

    So the problem actually lies with the internet providers, rather than RTE’s geo-block.
    David,

    This is not the case, although RTÉ may wish you to believe this.

    A bit of technical background. An IP address, strictly speaking, isn’t inherently geographical; it’s just a number. There is no way to tell, just from the address and nothing else, where in the world the computer behind the IP address actually is.

    However, in practice, IP addresses are allocated in blocks to different ISPs. There are third-party services which use various heuristics to track the likely geographical location of an address. So by using one of these services it is possible to say, with a certain degree of accuracy, where an address is.

    The problem is not straightforward to solve because there is no guarantee that the same IP address will always be allocated to a given customer. It can change under certain circumstances. In effect, the geolocation services provide an educated guess which has a degree of accuracy which is typically acceptable.

    Your problem arises because the geolocation service being used by RTÉ thinks that you are not in Northern Ireland. It is RTÉ, not your ISP, who are withholding programming from you on the basis of information which is incorrect. It is not the responsibility of the ISP to solve this problem – indeed there is no way an ISP could solve it if they wanted to. Therefore, RTÉ’s claim that it is not their problem seems, I’m sad to say, like an attempt to stop you from pestering them.

    There are a few ways that this problem could be solved, but it would require RTÉ to solve them. They could provide an IP address whitelisting service. This would allow users to visit a website, declare that they are from NI. RTÉ would then store their IP address and allow programmes to be sent to it. This would require investment by RTÉ or their geolocation provider to maintain/update the database.

    Or another approach would be to allow users in NI to register. RTÉ could send a username and password through the post (only to addresses within NI); the user could identify themselves with RTÉ’s player to receive programmes.

    This is the sort of problem that our wonderful cross-border bodies were supposed to solve, and I suspect it is within the specific remit of the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure to raise it. Maybe your next port of call would be to contact the Department and ask what action is being taken to communicate these issues to the counterpart department in Dublin.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I think if your isp is virgin you will see it as they have local ips. If you are with BT you may not see it as their ips are centralised.

  • Cushy Glen

    Is the Easter Rising not part of British history too? Such a shame that the BBC did not have the guts to partner RTE on this.

  • David,

    On RTÉ’s response,

    if a user’s computer IP address indicates that they are located outside of the island of Ireland, their access will be blocked.

    Unfortunately this is outside of RTÉ’s control as the IP address is issued by Internet Service providers directly to their customers. RTÉ certainly hopes that the series is seen by as many viewers as possible in all 32 counties. We would advise users to contact their service provider on this issue.

    And what response do RTÉ expect from the service providers?

    Because in August, RTÉ said they were investigating why some northern viewers attempting to access the RTÉ Player were being directed to the international version of the app and asked to pay a €120 subscription. Obviously that ‘investigation’ didn’t go very far…

    But don’t worry! The brightest minds of our Assembly, I jest, have come up with a solution. From an Irish News report 24 August 2015

    A Stormont committee has written to a European body to request a separate ‘IP address’ for Northern Ireland, allowing greater access to online content from RTÉ.

    At present RTÉ and TG4 programmes can be blocked for northern web users whose devices are often linked to locations in England.

    Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan, deputy chair of the enterprise, trade and investment committee, said a briefing document from Ofcom presented to members at the start of the summer suggested exploring the possibility of securing a separate IP address.

    Mr Flanagan said: “We have agreed to write to the European Regional Internet Registry to request a block of IP addresses for the north. It would help with the unique circumstances we have in which people can get both RTÉ and BBC.

    “No other region in Europe has this complex situation. It makes for more sense. The IP address for here is coming up as some obscure part of England.”

    The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said the proposal received cross-party support from the 11 MLAs on the committee.

    He added: “I don’t think there would be a huge cost to it. The ISPs (internet service providers) servicing here are not that interested because they are based in Britain.”

    That’s despite what Ofcom actually said…

    The report from Ofcom on the availability of RTE and TG4 states that “there may be a legitimate expectation” that online content should be available to internet users in the north.

    However, the communications regulator appears to pour cold water on the likelihood of a separate IP address for the north, and whether such a service would always be accurate.

    It said: “It would be technically possible for ISPs to ring-fence a set of their IP addresses and allocate them only to customers in Northern Ireland.

    “However, such a process could be an inefficient way for ISPs to manage what is a finite resource and would be costly to implement. As such it would remain a commercial decision for each ISP.”

    The Ofcom report added: “In a world where IP addresses are becoming increasingly dynamic and shared by multiple users… using an IP address as a proxy for location will become increasingly inaccurate.”

  • Did RTÉ seek a partner for this production?

  • Brendan Heading

    Hmm.

    I don’t see how Phil’s plan would work. The problem is that IP addresses allocated to a country are in turn divvied up among that country’s ISPs. Each ISP in the UK wishing to provide an NI service would have to be allocated a subdivision of the NI IP address range, and would need to configure their networks in such a way that customers within NI got an address within that range.

    This is a hell of a lot of hassle. Asing ISPs to go to expense to reconfigure their networks, just because a state broadcaster in another jurisdiction wants to use geolocation to protect its content, is a bridge too far.

    It is within the gift of the Irish government to solve this problem if it wishes. The cross-border authorities seem to me to be the most appropriate place to escalate the issue.

  • It is within the gift of the Irish government to solve this problem if it wishes.

    It is?! Enlighten us.

  • Brendan Heading

    They could compel RTÉ to provide a login option on their website. Users in NI could register and receive a password in the post, which would “prove” to a reasonable extent that they are residents in NI.

  • Ignoring your eagerness to call for a government to compel a broadcaster…

    “Users in NI could register and receive a password in the post…”

    Yeah, I can’t seed any possibility for that to be abused…

    Never mind making provision for forgotten/lost passwords.

    It’s a linear solution to a digital problem.

  • RTÉ is a statutory body and until it is mandated to service all 32 counties by the government it will continue as it has.

    Which it does, as long as you have a HD Freeview enabled TV.

  • Brendan Heading

    Ignoring your eagerness to call for a government to compel a broadcaster…

    Pete,

    Firstly I am not “eager”. I’m answering your question. I have no dog in this fight personally – I seldom watch TV.

    Secondly, RTÉ is not a private sector firm, it is the Irish state broadcaster, funded to a large extent by the Irish taxpayer. The Irish government can mandate the scope of its broadcast however it chooses.

    Yeah, I can’t seed any possibility for that to be abused…

    I did not suggest that it could not be abused. That is why I said “prove to a reasonable extent”. I’d highlight that an account which can be monitored (eg for signs of proxying/VPN abuse) is more difficult to abuse than selective blocking of IP addresses via geolocation.

    Never mind making provision for forgotten/lost passwords.

    Yes, RTÉ would incur expense for managing this scheme. This fact does not effect my point – it is within the Irish government’s gift to mandate RTÉ to do this if it wishes.

  • The Irish government can mandate the scope of its broadcast however it chooses.

    Up to a point, Lord Copper…

  • erasmus

    There are ways around this. Google ‘tunnelbear’ and ‘identity cloaker’.

  • Slater

    RTE are still working to stop using long wave for radio broadcasting which is the only way you can get reception in Belfast. Why do they not realise this?

  • Jag

    Just goes to show that Northern Ireland is not, in fact, a country.

  • chrisjones2

    Yes…its an integral part of the UK as our web IPs show

  • erasmus

    It has come up on the following website ( a bit sooner than I thought it would):
    http://thewatchseries.to/serie/rebellion

    If you go there be prepared for unsolicited pop ups. Also stream rather than download.
    Incidentally it works the other way — presumably based on the same principles: trying to watch BBC iPlayer in the ROI is a frustrating experience.