Netflix says it will crack down on customers using proxy servers and VPNs to access content restricted to specific countries. But not everyone is convinced the move can or will succeed.
Customers use tools to bypass Netflix’s georestrictions for a variety of reasons, including:
- not having the service available at all in their country (though it’s now in 190 countries);
- wanting to get the full catalog of TV shows from the US version of the service;
- continuing to watch their own country’s catalog while travelling abroad; and
- taking advantage of the way many Hollywood movies are only available on Netflix in Scandinavia or South America.
To date Netflix has effectively turned a blind eye to such measures. While it uses a geoblock to restrict the catalog, it’s done the bare minimum to enforce it, meaning users can run an unblocking service and ‘change regions’ in a moment. Indeed, this time last year it flat out denied cracking down on measures to bypass geoblocks.
Now Netflix’s David Fullagar says that’s about to change. In a blog post he noted Netflix continues to work to the goal of all content being available in all countries but that until that day, “we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.”
He went on to say that proxy and unblocking technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are.”
Customer feedback has been negative to say the least, with plenty of people arguing that if they were restricted to the Netflix content “officially” available in their country, they wouldn’t continue to find it worthwhile subscribing.
However, those offering the VPN and unblocking services don’t seem particularly worried. Unblock US has simply said “We are aware of the announcement and should our service be affected at any time, we will make adjustments.”
Meanwhile TorGuard has openly stated it will win a game of cat and mouse, writing “For those of you who rely on TorGuard VPN service to unblock Netflix content unrestricted, you don’t have to worry. Netflix will be pushing this plan forward soon, and when that happens, TorGuard will immediately deploy new server IP addresses so users can still bypass blocks.”
In reality Netflix faces a balancing act. It needs to be seen to be doing enough to respect content licensing deals to make sure it doesn’t lose potential content suppliers. At the same time, it needs to make sure that it has the widest range of content possible (however unofficially) to potential customers.
There are also a couple of conspiracy theories at play. One is that if geoblocking really is more harshly enforced, customers may be more likely to check out Netflix’s growing library of original content, which is available in almost all markets.
Another is that the move is less about licensing and more about VPN and proxy use in China where the service is officially blocked by the government. Netflix may believe that stopping workarounds could cause the estimated 20+ million Chinese users to put pressure on the government to allow Netflix in the country.