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The cat and mouse chase between Netflix and VPNs

As long as there are motivated users across the globe, VPN services will keep expanding the resources to scale their infrastructure to beat geo-restrictions.

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Image: KnowTechie

Netflix has come a long way from where it started as a subscription-based DVD service provider to now a streaming service global giant Its catalog exceeds thousands of titles, which ultimately translate into hundreds of thousands of hours of content.

In fact, it is one of the rare few streaming services that enjoy extensive network coverage. Currently, Netflix can be accessed in over 180 countries, excluding China, North Korea, and Syria.

As massive as its content inventory may be, it doesn’t come without any disparities. To begin with, the entire Netflix content library is not available in every country. With the exception of the US that has the highest number of titles, other countries have limited access to the content.

In fact, even the US library may lack some titles that may be available in other countries. For instance, German Netflix viewers can watch The Americans, which is an FX network show, but the US viewers can’t unless they shell out some extra bucks for another streaming service such as Amazon Prime.

Arrival of the Knight in the Shining Armor

To fight this discrepancy, internet users have taken refuge in virtual private networks (VPNs). A VPN allows users to encrypt their browsing activities and use anonymous IPs to hide everything they do on the Internet. Using the same principle, a VPN also allows users to access content that may not be available in the users’ region. It does so by replacing the users’ real IP with the country’s IP address where the content is available.

Netflix doesn’t seem to mind users accessing different regional libraries as long as they are paying for the endless hours of entertainment. However, some external forces pressure the streaming service into exerting stricter control on its content. Consequently, Netflix is left with no other choice but to ban VPNs.

An Unending Feud Begins

It has been four years since the start of the unstoppable war between Netflix and VPN services across the globe. The war began in early 2016 when Netflix drew the first-blood by cracking down on users circumventing Netflix regional restrictions through proxy services or unblockers.

The streaming service began displaying an error message, “You seem to be using an unblocker or proxy. Please turn off any of these services and try again,” to infringing viewers.

When even that didn’t stop motivated viewers from bypassing geo-restrictions, Netflix immediately turned its weapons towards the source of that motivation: VPN services.

The streaming service had to go down this route to demonstrate to its media partners and studios that it would stick to the deal, protect their content, and comply with the licensing deals as agreed upon.

Netflix delivered on its promise by identifying and then blacklisting the entire IP pools associated with proxy, unblocker, and VPN services. Netflix’s then vice president of content delivery architecture, David Fullagar, stated in a related blog post, “Some members use proxies or ‘unblockers’ to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do.”

Fullagar further added, “This technology continues to evolve, and we are evolving with it.”

As anyone could have guessed, the outcry over the Netflix VPN ban was swift across online communities:

“We have the smallest selection in the world with @NetflixPT. Closing VPN access will probably mean cancelling subscription.”

“I guess Netflix don’t want my money then. Lots of other ways to watch movies and shows for free. Goodbye Netflix”

“This is as bad an idea as #blockbusters not buying @netflix when they had the chance. European content is not great.”

Some users were even aware of the reason behind Netflix’s decision of banning VPN services:

“They will never ban paying customers for using a VPN. Netflix itself doesn’t care about people circumventing the region block. It’s the media distribution companies who are causing this. They’re forcing Netflix to take measures against unblockers.”

Netflix Has Its Reasons

When studios produce movies and TV shows, they then strike a deal with the broadcasters where they first decide where the broadcaster can show the content. Sometimes, the studios broadcast their own content if they have a television network or online streaming option. Other times, they need the help of broadcasters.

For instance, Homeland is a Showtime production which can be watched on the studio’s proprietary streaming service in the US. But since Showtime isn’t accessible outside the US, it made a deal with Netflix to broadcast the shows in regions other than the US.

At the end of the day, it is the studio’s call to mention in the licensing deals where it wants the distributor to broadcast the content, and failing to meet that would mean a breach of contract.

Since Netflix is also a distributor to dozens of studios and media houses, it has to abide by the licensing deals. Plus, it also puts Netflix at their mercy.

To ensure that their content’s broadcasting rights are protected, Netflix can take all the necessary measures, and that includes banning VPNs.

Has Netflix Succeeded?

Netflix has succeeded in hammering a good number of VPN services over the years, restricting their IP addresses. In fact, many VPN services have stopped offering Netflix accessibility as they no longer can do it due to IP restrictions. However, many of those VPN services had a limited number of VPN servers and the respective IP addresses, which made it easier for Netflix to crack down on such services.

But services with extensive infrastructure are hard to stop, such as PureVPN that owns over 2000 servers located in 140 countries and 180+ locations. These top-tier services have ample resources and the means to put up new servers and buy new whitelisted IP pools as soon as the older servers and IPs are blocked.

As long as there are motivated users across the globe, VPN services will keep expanding the resources to scale their infrastructure to beat geo-restrictions imposed by streaming giants like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, to name a few.

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