Netflix and Chill in Armenia – or Not

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In early January 2015, Netflix launched in 130 new countries including Armenia, thus extending its reach across the globe with the exceptions of China, North Korea, Crimea and Syria. But its availability of certain shows and films is far from being global, and these limitations are certainly felt in Armenia.

While most genre listings are drastically smaller when viewing Netflix from Armenia than from the US, some are nearly invisible or entirely empty and unlisted. CivilNet compared availability from a few different genre listings as they are viewed from the US versus Armenia:

Romantic comedies 312 (US) / 43 (Armenia)

Political documentaries 124 / 20

Gay & Lesbian: 159 / 4

International Movies 975 / 0

Sci-Fi & Fantasy 257 / 61

Military TV Shows 35 / 4

Family Features 232 / 40

Netflix told CivilNet that the disparities in availability are mostly “due to the world of content licensing which has been traditionally very fragmented and regionalized.” Viewing options depend on licensing laws, which vary from country to country.

According to Samvel Martirosyan, Yerevan-based social media and information security analyst, “copyright and licensing became a sort of religion in the movie industry… The richest collection is available in US. Small new countries should survive with mostly old and small lists.”

Netflix also told Civilnet that they will continue to negotiate some of these licenses in order to increase the catalog in Armenia, with the ultimate goal of offering “a fully global service with a global catalog.” They plan to spend about US$5 billion on programming rights in 2016.

However, this goal that Netflix has reiterated does not exactly line up with their initial response to CivilNet’s inquiries, when they stated that they are just “starting to learn about what people enjoy and how they use [their] service.” If the goal is to offer a fully global catalog with no country-to-country differences, why is it appropriate to somehow determine what different country audiences enjoy? Who makes such decisions if the audience cannot view enough to make such decisions themselves? These questions were left unanswered, as the Public Relations representatives of Netflix then diverted all focus back to issues of licensing.

Still, for about 4,000 AMD per month, viewers in Armenia now can legally watch some of what they might have otherwise illegally downloaded, streamed, or accessed through a proxy which will soon be blocked by Netflix. As long as the Netflix catalog is limited for whatever reasons, however, viewers will continue to pursue other options.