Netflix has become a global phenomenon since it started sending out rented DVDs in 1998. Since then, Netflix has grown into an incredibly diverse online streaming video service, producing some of the most creative original programming seen in years. They are deliberately moving away from their initial raison d’etre – however the ubiquity of their service, and the treasures held deep within their (very) specific categories are still the main attraction.
Netflix now has an amazing 93 million subscribers worldwide and according to statistics 70% of those viewers like to binge watch shows. Black Mirror, The OA, Judd Apatow’s Love and dozens of other series are waiting in full for the eager small screen addict. The company’s global push means that 47% of those millions of subscribers live outside the US. Since arriving in the UK in 2012 Netflix has become a national pastime for many of us. This is a global audience like no other.
Licensing deals, as well as targeted regional programming, means that there are discrepancies in terms of what’s on offer in different countries. Twitter offers evidence of this every day. How often have you seen a particular film or show being heralded on social media, only to go to Netflix to find that it’s not yet available in your country?
The US Netflix catalogue vastly eclipses just about every other Netflix catalogue from around the world. As such, a US Netflix account can be seen to be a much more exciting proposition then a Netflix account in say Spain, the UK, or Australia. There has been much online discussion about a homogeneous approach to content. This would make sense, however it’s unlikely considering the huge amount of legal entanglements that would need to be involved.
In Hong Kong, for example, Netflix subscribers get access to 392 movies and 134 TV shows. That is about 10% of the total US library of titles. UK subscribers get to see 34% of the US catalogue. The reality is that Netflix would no doubt prefer to provide the same rich catalogue across the entire network.
Unfortunately the limitations from the content producers themselves mean that there are jewels being missed all over the world. Some companies have decided to circumvent the current model to offer a wider range of content. It is for that reason that Netflix has branched out and invested heavily in funding the production of Netflix owned movies and TV shows. Last year, it even struck deals at film festivals, grabbing films that would otherwise have ended up at the cinema or on TV. By producing content that it has control over, and buying up the rights to new TV shows, Netflix gets its hands on content that it can show all over the world. But what can users do right now? The answer many have turned to is a VPN.
A VPN service allows anybody, anywhere, to ‘spoof’ their location to within the US. The result is that somebody paying for Netflix in Hong Kong can gain access to the whole US catalogue. That means a VPN takes them from 392 movies to a huge 4593 movies to choose between. Many people have turned to VPNs to enhance their Netflix experience, however there are things would-be Netflix-tourists need to be wary of.
The Netflix Terms of Service (ToS) do make it clear that unblocking a foreign Netflix catalogue is in breach of the contract. The firm has said that it will block anybody that is found to be using any service that allows them to unblock a foreign content catalogue. Here’s what they’ve done so far to counter it.
Instead of going after paying customers who use a VPN to unblock a larger catalogue, Netflix (perhaps due to pressure from content holders) does try to attempt to cut off VPNs from unblocking US Netflix. This has resulted in the vast majority of VPNs losing their ability to unblock Netflix. The good news for those still keen is that some VPNs still unblock Netflix though this is an ever changing situation that is an ongoing tug of war between Netflix and the VPNs.
Many VPNs gave up the struggle with Netflix almost right away. Others made it their mission to keep providing access to US Netflix. The result is that new users need to check to see if a VPN provider is still managing to unblock Netflix before they subscribe to it. In addition, you must communicate with the VPN provider, because sometimes simply connecting to a US server isn’t enough: and instead people need to connect to a “dedicated server” that the VPN will give you the address for to enter into your VPN software manually. It’s a well documented process and forums around the internet are dedicated to (quietly) sharing their ways around the Netflix VPN purge.
What the future holds is uncertain. There are millions of diligent and technically creative people looking to get more for their monthly subscription. It is perhaps a losing battle. Netflix does not want to lose subscribers, and so are more likely to find an alternative arrangement. Producing and pushing their own content is a sure fire way to build a global offering. One can imagine that Netflix are now more keen than ever to renegotiate any licensing deals with a focus on offering that content around the world.
Right now only a VPN with the know-how to bypass the system Netflix has put in place will get you a wider catalogue, and many are choosing that path. Our feeling is that a global Netflix catalogue will happen sooner rather than later, and that’ll be a triumph for us all.