Olympic filtering

As reported by Wired, the websites of NBC and the BBC are restricting access to video of the Olympic Games, making them accessible to users in their respective countries. It is not difficult to restrict access by geographical region. In addition to commercial services such as GeoByte’s IP Locator it is relatively simple of lookup the visitors IP address in ARIN/RIPE/APNIC/LACNIC and find the country to which the particular IP address has been allocated. However, it is possible to fool such geo-locators by using proxy servers located in other countries. But NBC requires credit card information in addition to a country check and the BBC restricts access on their media server which uses the RTSP protocol that most common proxies cannot handle. It appears that the Olympic filtering is rather successful.

When visiting the BBC’s Olympics page from Canada its almost exactly the same as when visiting from the UK. The only difference is the video options from Canada are reduced the latest headlines while UK visitors are presented with a small menu of video options from specific events. The ‘Watch/Listen to the Olympics’ block on the right side is dynamically generated depending on whether the user connects from the UK or not. The “Sports News Bulletin” video option available to non-UK users contains footage of the athletes training, interviews and footage from previous Olympics but only still picture images from the current Olympics, no video footage.

UK users can watch a variety of video clips from Olympic events. When selecting the video clips the user is prompted for preferences (Real PLayer or Windows Media Player) which are set in a cookie. During this stage, if the user is outside the UK and has selected an Olympic video clip the user will be redirected to a page indicating that the content they’ve requested is available to users in the UK only.

If the user is not within the UK, then a page loads notifying the user that the content is available only to users in the UK.

If the user is within the UK, then the page loads as usual.

It is possible to directly access the Real Media (.rm) files, bypassing the “UK user only” warning page. However, the server on which they are hosted seems to also restrict access by geo-location of the requesting IP address. Video files available to UK users only are hosted on rmgeo.bbc.net.uk or rmlivev8geo.bbc.net.uk while the files available to everyone else are hosted on rmv8.bbc.net.uk. The “rmgeo” servers will not allow downloads to users outside the UK. The ability to test was limited as most proxy servers do not proxy RTSP requests, only HTTP. Therefore even using proxy servers in the UK, I was unable to download the restricted video files. (This limitation can be overcome by using a socks proxy).

Concerning Olympic broadcast rights in the US, Wired reports:

NBC paid $793 million for the exclusive U.S. Summer Olympic broadcast rights, and NBCOlympics.com is the only U.S. website licensed by the International Olympic Committee to broadcast video coverage of the games.

When requesting video clips from NBCOlympics.com from Canada (or any country other than the US) the a message is shown to users stating that the tests performed by NBC indicate that the user is not with the US.

But even US users are not solely authenticated based on their IP address. When connecting from the US, users still must enter the first six digits of their Visa card (proud sponsor) along with the corresponding zipcode for the billing address and card expiry date.

Altogether, it appears that the restrictions are, for the most part successful.

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