Saturday, November 26, 2016

Notes from watching Supergirl via VPN

It is only 2 more sleeps (as the kids would say) until the Monday episode of Supergirl launches #DCWeek, the 4-series crossover event between Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow.

I have been looking forward to this since I first heard about the possibility last spring.

Unfortunately, as anyone who reads my blog knows, I've been having trouble watching Supergirl in Canada even though this content is very Canadian, being filmed in Vancouver.

The other 3 shows are on the CTV GO app which, while not being ideal, at least works. For Supergirl I tried to watch on the Showcase website, then gave up and paid for a season pass via Google Play. It is Saturday and last Monday's episode of Supergirl has still not been posted to Google Play by Showcase.

(Nov 29 update: Nov 14'th episode still last posted, so 2 weeks behind).

There is no way I'm going to trust that both episodes will be available on Monday, and that Showcase's screwup won't continue the rest of the season. Typical with my interactions with Canada's broadcast industry, I feel duped.

I've sent tweets to @showcasedotca , and while the person in charge of that account acknowledged the problem it hasn't been resolved yet.

I sent a messages to, and while I received an automated reply from "Showcase Viewer Relations" I have received nothing else.

I've now taken the next step to ensuring I can view the launch of the crossover event Monday without a problem.

Setting up a VPN to watch via the US source

While I use VPNs as part of my work every day (I manage servers spread across the country, and need to communicate between them securely), this is the first time I have been driven to use a VPN to bypass region restrictions.  If anyone in the broadcast industry has a problem with me using a VPN for this purpose they can send their complaints to to see if they get any better response than I have.

Some quick searching found many review sites for services that use VPNs for the purposes of bypassing region restrictions.  The one I decided on was ExpressVPN, and paid $99.95US for a year subscription.  They indicate that if I cancel within 30 days I get a refund, so like Netflix I have a month to decide if this is worth keeping.

My first attempt to use ExpressVPN was with the Android App on my ASUS Flip Chromebook.

I ended up learning about something new about the Android support in new Chromebooks.  It seems that it is only the Android container, and not the device as a whole, that the VPN software works with.  This meant that the version of Chrome running within ChromeOS would show my normal IP address, while I would get the US based IP address if I used the Android version of Chrome.

With this setup going to The CW's Supergirl site didn't work as I would have hoped. Detecting that I was on an Android device (not a Chromebook) it sent me to Google Play to download the Android CW App. Google Play indicated that the app wasn't available in my country.

I installed the ExpressVPN client on my Linux desktop in the basement. I was able to go to the CW Supergirl site and watch last Monday's episode.

This isn't where I want to watch television, so isn't something I would be wanting to do often.  I could set up the VPN via my gateway rather than on a desktop, which would allow me to watch via my Chromebook, but then enabling/disabling the VPN all the time would be inconvenient. Any use of VPNs slows down network speed, and I wouldn't want our normal network usage to be diminished because of a few broken content delivery services.

If I keep the VPN software I might have the router send specific subnets via the VPN (CW, not sure about Netflix).  I just checked the BBC iPlayer and it works well with this VPN service -- all it took for me to finally decide to take a look at bypassing region blocking was to finally get so upset with dealing with the Canadian broadcast industry and Showcase finally pushed me over that edge.

The CW experience.

It's a broadcaster, so I'm putting it in that context.  I really prefer first-run subscription content libraries like Netflix, and wish there were competitors to this in Canada for anything not available on Netflix.   Second-run subscription content libraries like CraveTV are fine for watching old shows, but are not a substitute for first-run services.

The CW's website is a massive improvement over anything I've seen from the Canadian broadcaster-run websites.

The show has commercials, and like when watching broadcasting they are at the same video quality and sound volume as the show.  None of this jarring mess of uneven video quality and massive audio volume jumps that you can see on the website.

The commercials even have text below them (outside of the video) clarifying who the advertiser is, and have links directly to the advertisers website.   This must be amazing for US based advertisers where audiences are more likely to want to thank them for sponsoring the show, rather than in Canada where you feel like contacting them to let them know the broadcaster has duped them.

I wrote in the earlier article how Supergirl was the only series I'm watching where I saw advertisements.  I'm not sure if advertisers are better treated by Showcase which tries to display commercials and does it poorly, or CTV where the CTV GO app doesn't bother to show advertisements (just interrupts the stream and takes a few moment for buffering to catch up again).

I'd rather pay to not have advertisements, but bad experience with paying Showcase to access Supergirl has reminded me that paying money is no guarantee you'll get service from a Canadian broadcaster.  I'm getting good service so far from Space for my season subscription to BBC Class, even though they'd rather I didn't pay them that way.

I've now paid for the ExpressVPN service, money I would have preferred was sent to a content creator.  I might as well make use of it for watching the rest of the CW series.  I don't know if I'll keep the service, but I at least know I'll be able to enjoy the crossover event next week no matter what the Canadian broadcasters do.

February 18 update:

The problem hasn't improved. After complaints about ongoing delays for episodes, I received a suggestion from the person managing their twitter feed to send more email.

This is entirely unreasonable. Either the people they have hired to make the episodes available should have been fired months ago for incompetence, or this is deliberate behavior on the part of the company. Showcase is likely presuming that if they constantly screw up legal alternatives that fans will be driven to watch via Showcase (either via cable of via their website).

If your child stole money, would you reward them with candy or would you believe they needed to be reprimanded and/or punished? The reality is that this type of dishonest behavior by broadcasters drives people to VPN services as well as to copyright infringement. Showcase should be being treated by lawmakers and the law similar to how ISOhunt was during the C-32/C-11 hearings, as a commercial contributory infringer.

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