Netflix sent the entire world into a panic when they announced on their Blog that they would be restricting users to viewing only content licensed in the country in which they are located. It means that customers will not be able to use any of the techniques they have used in order to circumvent geographical restrictions. It is easy to avoid “geo-blocked services” by using a VPN service or proxy provided by any of the many companies that now offer these technologies.
Netflix is available in over 190 countries. However, the content offered in 189 countries is far inferior to that in the US. Tens of million of users use VPNs to appear as if they are in the US.
Netflix has denied blocking VPNs for a long time, claiming it was impractical. Netflix Chief Product Office Neil Hunt has said they try to block VPNs by using “blacklists,” which are addresses of VPN providers. However, this method will never block users from accessing the content.
David Fullagar, VP of Content Delivery Architecture, followed up on the previous statements made by Hunt with a blog post. Fullagar was careful to emphasize that.
We will continue to enforce the content licensing based on geographic location.
He said that Netflix had already tried to block VPNs but that the technology would be used more aggressively “in the coming weeks.”
Netflix may find it hard to block VPN access, but the truth is that Netflix won’t be able to do so. TorGuard, for example, has already declared:
You don’t need to worry if you use TorGuard VPN to unblock Netflix’s unrestricted content. Netflix is expected to implement this plan soon. TorGuard will then immediately launch new server IPs so that users can continue to bypass the blocks.
TorGuard and other VPN providers will be able to switch Internet addresses faster than Netflix wants to block VPNs. Hulu, for example, has tried to block VPNs much more aggressively than Netflix in the past and had limited success. VPN providers are a major business group, and it is unlikely that they would stand by and let their customers go if Netflix succeeded.
Netflix also faces the real risk of losing subscribers if they are successful in blocking US content.
Netflix is actively working to license content on this basis in the future. Other services that want exclusive rights in their geographies and content owners who think they can maximize the money they earn from their content through geographical licensing will oppose this.
Netflix had to strike a delicate balance in order to show content owners that they were serious about restricting content while also giving their customers the service they wanted. Fullagar’s comments on blocking VPNs appear to be more for appearances rather than a real change in the way they restrict their content.
Globally, customers are expecting the same digital content to be available simultaneously in all countries. The companies that follow this model will really succeed globally because they are giving their customers what they want. If content providers do not adapt, they will likely lose out to companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and others that provide content and make the content available on a worldwide basis.
As I’ve previously written, if Netflix does manage to block VPN providers known to the public, then consumers can create their own VPN services.