One of the most common reasons to adopt a VPN is to access your favorite media content. In fact, access to better entertainment content is the primary reason for VPN usage: 49% globally, and up to 54% in the Asia Pacific region, VPN leading market. This VPN function may also be extremely relevant for US users who travel abroad and find themselves yearning for a binge of their favorite TV show that is not widely available outside the US.
Geo-restrictions on entertainment content are the key reason for global internet users to invest in a VPN provider if they want to access their favorite gaming servers, watch popular TV shows, or find movies that may be blocked in their country of residence. On the other hand, accessing your home-based account while traveling abroad is an issue important to millions of frequent travelers.
This content is not available in your country
Hulu or Netflix subscriptions give you access to the best binge experiences on the market. Unfortunately, "This content is not available in your country" is a message that pops up every now and then if you want to watch a show not acquired by Netflix or Hulu in your current location. Netflix is one of the most headstrong opponents of the VPN (and perhaps as successful as China): it has put a series of detection mechanisms to prevent its subscribers from spoofing their location to access geo-blocked entertainment content. Netflix is well equipped to detect most common VPN providers. While it will not outright ban your account for using VPN, it will warn you that proxy access is prohibited and redirect you back to the local homepage.
While some VPN providers have quit the losing battle against Netflix, others continue to persist. Keeping a relatively low profile may be one of the keys to success: see for example our Surfshark VPN review that demonstrates how this VPN service provides excellent access to Netflix US/Canada library from other physical locations.
What is geo-blocking anyway, and why Netflix is being so uncompromising about it? Netflix is producing more and more of its own shows today (and those are available on Netflix worldwide), among which are the brilliant hits like Black Mirror (acquired by Netflix from UK Channel 4), Stranger Things, House of Cards, Mindhunter, or Marvel series. However, the majority of Netflix shows are subject to copyright laws in the original country of production and distribution. One of the most binged shows on the planet, The Office (US), belongs to NBC, where it originally aired. While Netflix users in North America can enjoy watching The Office on the loop, European users have to allocate those 67 hours of their lives (201 total episodes, 20 minutes each if you discount deleted scenes) somewhere else. If the original distributor sold the rights to a show to one particular local network, it can hardly also sell to Netflix until the first license has expired.
Although it would be in Netflix’s best interests to provide access to all their content anywhere and everywhere, the company faced significant pressure from local distributing partners who realized how VPN could ultimately damage their business.
EU single cyberspace
In the EU, a new portability regulation adopted in 2018 makes sure that geo-blocking does not apply between EU countries – for most types of online services. This attempt to create a unified EU cyberspace (and a Digital Single Market) for online retailers and other service providers means that your Netflix subscription will offer the same content in all EU countries as in your home EU country. For example, if your original subscription was made on Netflix UK (with a UK credit card), you will have access to the Netflix UK library even when you travel to Germany. Additionally, local content (specific to Netflix Germany) will be added to your original UK library. Unfortunately, the EU ban on geoblocking does not mean much to subscribers outside the EU.
Legal streaming options by location
As a popular response to geoblocking, platforms like JustWatch and CanIStream.it emerged, providing an overview of streaming and download options (both free and paid, but all legal) available at your current location: they cover Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, and just about everything else.
Not-so-legal ways to access entertainment content
Going down the pirate path, torrent downloads, illegal streams and Kodi provide worldwide access to entertainment content and are compatible with VPN services to bypass geoblocking or tracking. Torrenting is tolerated in some countries, restricted in others and punishable by (big) fines in the most copyright-conscious ones. In Russia, for example, torrent websites are blocked, but not the torrent client; one can easily bypass web blocking with a VPN and download all the movies you want without a hitch. In Germany, on the other hand, local authorities have a system in place to track the IP addresses from torrent logs and send a fine for violation of copyright if you distribute (i.e. seed via P2P) pirated content. Dodgy illegal streaming, on the other hand, is not likely to result in a fine for viewers, although the people behind the website have to play a game of cat and mouse with local copyright authorities (in most countries, it is uploading and distributing pirated content that’s considered illegal, not watching it). Even if you resort to semi-legal options like torrenting or illegal streaming, the use of VPN is essential to ensure that your IP address remains masked from local ISPs.