World Sumo Fans Lose AbemaTV

Thanks, Abema Blob-Man, I Get The Message…

For sumo fans outside of Japan, there has been a sea change in the way we enjoy sumo. Many of us watched the lower divisions via a streaming TV service called Abema.tv, which we connected to via VPN that gave us a Japanese IP address. But it seems that Abema has decided to block VPN addresses from its service, and suddenly the normal ritual of tuning in during the late afternoon to catch the action in the lower divisions, up through Makushita was gone. I completely understand why they did it, and they own the rights to that content. They are fully justified to block foreign folks if that is what makes sense for their business. But for team Tachiai, we are sad to lose access to the lower divisions.

Coupled with Kintamayama going on holiday for a time, the number of ways a fan can get more than the basic NHK highlight reel are limited. For myself, I long ago subscribed to the NHK world wide feed, and I am privileged to have access to the full 2 hour Makuuchi broadcast each day (actually the middle of the night). I am incredibly thankful someone lets me buy this content, but as readers may have noticed, I have become a big fan of the Makushita top echelon, and there is simply no way to take that in now, short of going to Japan.

Several of my sumo friends have rightfully wondered, “Why doesn’t Abema just offer a way for us outside of the country to spend money for access, and let us pay watch?”. This is a great question and digs straight to the heart of one of the ugly aspects of the modern age. Abema probably does not have the rights for world-wide distribution. They may have started blocking VPNs because the actual rights holders (NSK? NHK?) asked them to do so, and given how modern copyright and content ownership laws work, they were within the law to do so.

Like many sumo fans around the world, I suddenly found my evening free during Honbasho, and was unsure what to do. Of course the first 2 hours was spent madly trying to find a way to get the stream working, followed by expanded time with my family enjoying myself. I am sure at some point in the future, the hard-core sumo fans like myself will be granted some way to take in the full day of the basho. But until then, we are likely going to have to make do with whatever videos someone can sneak out onto platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.

17 thoughts on “World Sumo Fans Lose AbemaTV

  1. It used to be possible to pay for the entire day via ustream, but that also stopped a couple years ago. I wonder if a group letter, signed by enough foreign viewers, sent to the right people, might make a difference?

  2. Bruce, If you can find out and post here the name in Japanese of whatever outlets broadcast the other divisions I will look for them on our Chinese internet box TV. The Chinese sell a gizmo that accesses channels locally via the internet and streams them in at slight delay. (It is about a 1 to 2 minute delay for NHK World.) The box my Taiwanese wife bought and we use here in Cambodia has about two dozen + Japanese channels to select from. If this box package doesn’t have them another might. The Chinese excel at side-stepping broadcast rights. I have watched hundreds of hours of netflix due to educational purposes clause where a group online translates the English and places it in Chinese subtitles so me can “learn English.”

  3. I know this kind of sounds like a shill post but this VPN works wonders:
    https://www.vpngate.net/en/download.aspx
    This works off the backs of random people on the internet voluntarily offering their own computer as a VPN host, and the whole thing is backed by a university in Japan, so it’s prettly legitimate.
    (Obviously you still shouldn’t send your credit card number over this thing.)
    Not all of the servers work, there are a couple of servers that have been blocked off. The connection is also a bit more flaky than your usual paid VPN service but all of those have been blocked off from what I can tell.
    Oh and it’s free.

    • Many thanks for the heads-up, works a treat. My paid VPN (PIA) has sadly ended up on Abema’s blacklist as well.

  4. I watched full Abema TV coverage streamed over YouTube. Is there something illegal about it that you guys don’t use that option? V.

  5. Bruce, I’m not sure you are correct that Abema knows it’s a VPN. The entire point of a VPN is a that it is transparent and looks like a legitimate local IP to the server. However, many VPNs are not very efficient at this aspect and allow the server to “see” some element of the actual origin or that it is a VPN assigned IP (which some do, but it’s not a good VPN then, imho). So there are half assed VPN and actual working VPN services out there. I use only free VPNs and nearly all of them don’t work even though they brag about being thorough, etc. Some worked and then quit working. But I have found 3 or 4 on Google Play Store that work very well and I’ve had zero interruption except the occasional net glitches that can happen when you’re hopping from server to server around the globe. Again, done right your IP should look just like a local’s to the Abema server. Try another VPN service.

    • I wasn’t clear: The Abema server likely identifies your IP as a non-Japanese IP which is their greatest concern. I see that as a failure of your VPN in some way.

    • Good points RalphL – But a service such as NordVPN owns a block of IP addresses (many) that serve as exit points for any inbound connection. It seems whatever software Abema is using keeps track of those IP ranges and inspects them. Given that most times Abema is access via a web browser, there are some hints that you are not in Japan that your browser gives away. So VPN + score that indicates you are not in Japan = Talk to the Hand, it seems.

      It also appears given experiments I ran Sunday that they may be “fingerprinting” computers that access the site. Whatever Abema is using, it’s fairly sophisticated, and as a software engineer, I am quite impressed.

  6. Abema is identifying and blocking Japanese IP addresses that it knows are coming from certain VPN providers. This has happened to paid VPN services such as TunnelBear and Nord that have many servers located in Japan. I emailed Nordvpn last basho and they confirmed that Abema was blocking their Japanese servers (and they were working to fix it). The thing is Abema (and all streaming services) can easily detect if there are many connections coming from one single IP address, and then it can get blocked.

    The solution is to keep searching for a VPN profile that Abema hasn’t yet blocked. Or as Dentay suggested earlier just watch it on someone else’s live stream on Youtube or elsewhere (hopefully they won’t close that down as well!)

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