Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

July 12, 2018

Netflix is the king of online video streaming services. Since it was launched online in 2007, Netflix has taken the world by storm and has quickly grown to be the world’s most sought-after video on demand (VoD) platform. As of 2018, Netflix is available in a staggering 190 countries and has in excess of 125 million subscribers.

It’s a well known fact that the Netflix catalog varies wildly from one country to the next. Netflix offers significantly more content to its US users than it does to those in other parts of the world. To see exactly how much content you might be missing out on, check out our Notflix report

This gap in available content can leave subscribers feeling short changed; and rightly so. After all, we all pay roughly the same amount for a Netflix subscription, so why should our American cousins get exclusive access to all the good stuff?

To help restore balance to the video streaming Force, many international users have turned to VPNs. Using a VPN, it is entirely possible to access the full catalog of Netflix content, regardless of where you originally took out your subscription. But it’s getting much harder to do. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why Netflix restricts its content in foreign markets, explain why VPNs are still  the most reliable tool for bypassing geographic restrictions and point you in the right direction if you want to unlock the full catalog.

Why are there differing Netflix catalogs?

TV has become an incredibly lucrative business in recent years. Once upon a time, television was seen as the ugly sister of film by the Hollywood elite; but times have changed and these days we see a lot of big stars appearing on the small screen (Christian Slater, Matthew McConaughey, James Franco, Halle Berry, Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell to name just a few).

This shift is, in part, thanks to the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. These new subscription-based streaming services have started creating their own original content, removing the burdens usually associated with television such as advertising and ratings. These providers have created a playground for creativity and because they have very deep pockets, they can afford to splash cash on top-class talent. It’s not only the Hollywood actors that are shunning the big screen in favor of the laptop; writers, producers, and directors are all getting in on the streaming action.

Because Netflix owns this original content outright, it can make it available to subscribers around the world. So far, so good. However, the vast majority of content available in the Netflix library is not produced by Netflix. The streaming king must, therefore, abide by the restrictions placed on it by the copyright holders of any given piece of content.

Netflix is not the bad guy here. It would prefer to show all movies and TV shows in every country because that would make its service more appealing. This is part of the reason why Netflix continues to invest heavily in producing its own content and buying content outright. Until such time as its original catalog is enticing enough to attract customers on its own merits, Netflix will be at the mercy of its partners. This reason is why Netflix blocked VPN services, however, some services can still unblock it’s US catalog, check our netflix guide to find out which VPNs unblock netflix.

Why do copyright holders force Netflix to block content?

Content producers and copyright holders are not in the television business to provide you with light entertainment while you eat your microwave dinner; they are there to make money. And they are acutely aware that there is more money to be made by striking deals with individual regions rather than providing global rights to one broadcaster. 

If video content has been licensed to a competing distributor or broadcaster – Netflix may not be permitted to show the content. The same is true if no distribution deal has been agreed for a specific region. No license agreement – no show.

For example, a copyright holder may want to license its content to Sky in the UK, Foxtel in Australia, Hotstar in India, and cable TV in New Zealand. In order for these lucrative deals to work, those broadcasters expect their distribution rights to be honored.

The great Netflix VPN Ban

For a time, people all over the world could use proxy services and VPNs to easily circumvent these geo-blocks. By simply masking their IP address and replacing it with one in the US, everyone was able to gain access to the full Netflix catalog. It didn’t take long, however, for content producers to figure out what was going on. Copyright holders got antsy with Netflix and put pressure on the firm to crack down on subscribers using VPNs.

Of course, Netflix could have chosen to simply ban all accounts found to be using a VPN. The Hollywood elite would probably have preferred this course of action.

Netflix, on the other hand, has an obligation to its shareholders and it would not make good business sense to start cutting off paying customers. Blanket banning subscribers would mean losing subscription fees – and Netflix didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds. So, instead of going after individual subscribers, Netflix blocks VPN services.

In fact, the timing of Netflix’ announcement that it was going to start blocking VPNs (January 2016) came just one week after Netflix rolled out its service worldwide. In other words, Netflix waited until it could sell its service everywhere before blocking VPN services.

Why? Most likely, because prior to its global roll-out, Netflix actually wanted consumers to use the US version of Netflix from overseas.

VPN blocking technology

In order to appease content producers and copyright holders, Netflix invested heavily in technology for spotting VPN use. Since January of 2016, that technology has become pretty sophisticated, and the vast majority of VPNs (and nearly all Netflix proxy services) no longer unblock Netflix. 

The result is that, nowadays, only a handful of VPNs actually unblock foreign Netflix catalogs.

Can I use a VPN to unblock Netflix?

The short answer to this question is yes. While it is against the Terms of Service, Netflix has never directly penalized subscribers for using a VPN to unblock its services and so it is highly unlikely that you will get into trouble for doing so.

The simple fact is that Netflix has to block VPNs to appease the production houses and copyright holders it licenses video content from. For this reason, Netflix is going to continue with its efforts to block IP addresses that belong to VPNs.

Netflix with a VPN is always going to be a bit of a cat and mouse game, and it is possible that you may lose access to Netflix on your VPN from time to time. If you’d like to find a VPN that is currently capable of unblocking Netflix, read our Best VPN for Netflix Guide.

Title image credit:  r.classen/Shutterstock.com

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