2016 was a significant year for online streaming services. Established Internet TV channels have improved their offerings and added support for more streaming devices. New online channels are popping up at an almost monthly basis. American cable provider are now offering stand-alone VOD services as well. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, probably the biggest two online streaming giants, are now available on a global scale. Unfortunately, geoblocking is still as fierce as ever in 2017. The term ‘geoblock’ basically means that you can watch an online channel in a certain region only. Let’s take a deeper look at what the future of geoblocking might hold.
The Netflix Timeline
- 2007: Netflix begins streaming in USA.
- 2010: Netflix is now available in Canada.
- 2011: Netflix expands to South America and the Caribbean.
- 2012: Netflix enters Europe. UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland all have access to Netflix by the end of the year.
- 2014: The company becomes available in Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.
- 2015: More regions are added. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Portugal, and Spain all have their own Netflix regions now.
- January, 2016: Netflix becomes available worldwide with the exceptions of China, Syria, and North Korea.
- February, 2016: Many Netflix users start to receive a ‘Netflix Proxy Error’ as a result of Netflix aggressively blocking VPN and Smart DNS proxy services.
- November, 2016: Netflix introduces offline playback for selected titles on Android and iOS devices.
Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the Future of Geoblocking
The Netflix Proxy Error Whack-a-mole
At the beginning of 2016, Netflix suddenly launched its service on a global scale. While it was exclusively available in countries such as USA, UK, and Canada at first, you could now access Netflix in South Africa, Russia, and even Saudi Arabia. Not long after that, the American streaming giant, under pressure from studios and distributors, began actively blocking VPN, Smart DNS, and any other means that would allow people to spoof their online location. Netflix officials also made the promise that they would attempt to provide the same content across all regions. Perhaps they did stay true to their word. What many didn’t anticipate was that Netflix was slowly replacing third-party content with their own original movies and TV shows. That way, Netflix would have ultimate control over their offerings.
Unfortunately, Netflix users who use virtual private networks strictly for business purposes where caught in the middle. As a result of Netflix’s attempts to ban VPNs, they’d had to turn off their VPN connections and expose their online privacy in the process.
Not only that. Netflix even began banning IPv6 tunnels over fears that people would use them to change their Netflix region. This resulted users who use IPv4 to IPv6 tunnel brokers legitimately getting blocked.
Amazon Follows Netflix’s Lead
Amazon have also recently launched their Prime Video service in over 220 countries. Like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video was only available in a handful of regions at first. There is no doubt that the fact Internet speeds constantly improving and an increasing global audience both played a major part in these extension. The ugly truth, however, is that there is still a major difference in the content you can get access to depending on where you currently reside. The reason for that is that streaming channels don’t own broadcasting rights for third-party content across the world. Amazon might have addresses this issue by lowering the cost of a Prime Video subscription to $2.99 at launch. Netflix subscriptions, on the other hand, cost the same regardless of the region and content available. Still, there are many Amazon subscriber who still use geo-spoofing to get access to American Amazon Prime overseas.
What About Other Streaming Services?
While it goes largely unnoticed, other popular VOD services also are doing their utmost to prevent VPN and Smart DNS users from accessing their content abroad. BBC iPlayer, Hulu, HBO GO, and Sky Go all fall under that category. Just because the media hasn’t picked up on the fact these channels are banning VPNs, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Any user who has been spoofing their online location for quite some time will tell you that they have to change the methods they use to bypass these ‘geo-fences’ periodically in order to keep accessing the content they way. Perhaps the fact Netflix and Amazon being the biggest streaming services in the world lead to wider coverage of their war against proxies.
VPN and Smart DNS: Ways to Get Around Geoblocks
While Netflix was, to some extent, successful in blocking VPN and Smart DNS, access to American Netflix outside USA is still possible. This is almost a year after Netflix began their crusade against geo-spoofing. What many streaming channels fail to comprehend is that people turn to these means as a way to get access to content that would otherwise not be available. In order to get a reliable VPN subscription, you’d have to shell out around 10 USD dollars a month. That is on top of the 10 dollars you’re already paying for Netflix. So, a Netflix subscriber can potentially end up paying 20$ a month just to get access to a decent library of movies and TV shows.
Even in local markets, there is a difference in the content you can get access to. In USA and Canada, for instance, cable companies control which NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB games are broadcasted online. That means sports fans have to turn to VPN or Smart DNS in order to bypass these blackouts. If a streaming channels figures out you’re using VPN or proxies, they simply block the video you are trying to watch. In rare cases, some streaming services went as far as cancelling their users’ subscriptions.
Torrents, Pirated Streams, and Kodi
Literally millions of people around the world rely on torrents, illegal streams, and Kodi to watch movies, TV, shows, and live channels online. What’s interesting is the fact that many people who used to pay for streaming services like American Netflix are now turning to these ‘pirated’ methods for online streaming. The main reason behind this is the fact they are no longer able to watch US Netflix abroad. Local Netflix libraries pale in comparison with Netflix USA and are filled with Netflix originals.
The number of people who use P2P apps, pirated sites, or Kodi to watch content online will no doubt increase drastically in the near future. While geoblocks certainly play a significant part, better infrastructures and higher Internet speeds will also play an important role in the process.
What seems to be certain is that the shift from traditional TV to Internet-based streaming has become the norm. Some even claim that conventional television sets will soon meet the destiny of their predecessor, the radio.
Future of Geoblocking – What Lies Ahead?
Production studios and distributors lie at the heart of the geoblocking fiasco. They force streaming channels to deploy stronger methods to ban bypassing geographic restrictions. Many people are getting tired and even alienated. Unless a fine balance can be struck, many of them might end up turning to ‘pirated’ streams or even torrents as way to watch what they want, when they want online. There’s no doubt that online streaming will slowly but surely replace traditional TV. Whether the same content will be eventually be available across all regions is unlikely at best.
Even when users are willing to pay in order to watch the content they want online, the movies, TV shows, and live streams are not available in their region. How else can one explain the fact that these same people are spending more of their hard-earned money on VPN or Smart DNS proxy services.
In the end, a Netflix user who lives outside USA is shells out more in total than what residence of the USA are paying for the same content. Even then, he or she are not allowed to access the same movies and TV shows.
While pirated streaming and torrenting should never be condoned or excused, for some these methods are the only way to access their favorite series online.