Netflix is one of the world’s most popular websites, consuming 15% of the whole world’s internet traffic. It’s easy to see why: a huge back catalogue of old movies and TV shows, new ones and even original content; cult directors the Coen Brothers released their new movie, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, directly to Netflix after a very limited theatrical release that effectively functioned as a trailer for the real event.
This ain’t your grandma’s cable TV, in other words.
But Netflix has some downsides.
The platform offers viewers very different content depending on where they are in the world. That’s for two main reasons.First, no matter how cultured you are, you’re less interested in Tagalog-language content than the people of Indonesia. It makes sense to show more Hindi material in India, more French movies in France. That’s about serving the audience.
But Netflix also has to serve the entities that own the copyright in some of its content. Especially with films and TV shows, that usually means rights holders dedicated to a now-outdated staggered release schedule that allowed for locally-targeted marketing campaigns.
Staggered release schedules and geoblocking
There’s a reason why the stars of new Hollywood movies show up on German country’s TV shows just before those movies are released in Germany. Staggered release enables companies to focus their whole marketing energy on one region at a time.
That release schedule is outdated as soon as you can just connect to a website on the other side of the world and watch whatever you want, often before it’s even been released in your country of residence. But rights holders still want it. So they oblige Netflix to enforce it. Netflix can’t show their content to anyone if they don’t use geoblocking.
Geoblocking identifies where you are in the world and stops you seeing certain content, based on your location. It moves the old-fashioned, region-by-region release schedule online.
That’s pretty bad if you’re travelling and you cross a national border, only to find you’ve suddenly lost two years’ worth of TV — especially if you’re in the middle of a binge.
The standard way to get around it is with a VPN, a Virtual Private Network.
Evading geoblocking with a VPN
VPNs do two things: they encrypt your traffic, and they conceal your location.
All the data you sent across the internet is broken up into packets; imagine taking a picture, cutting it up and putting the pieces into ten envelopes, each with the same address and your return address on the outside. Drop them in the postbox and they might get delivered by different vans, taking different roads, driven by different postal service personnel. But they all arrive and when they all get there, the recipient can put the picture back together. That’s how your data travels across the internet.
A VPN removes your return address, and replaces it with another one of your choosing. And it makes it impossible to open the envelopes; now, anyone who gets hold of one in transit can know where it’s going, but not where it’s from or what it contains.
This means when you’re travelling abroad and you want to access your normal Netflix content library, you can; all you need to do is fire up your VPN.
Proxy blockers and obfuscation: ‘oops, you seem to be using an unblocker or proxy’
Netflix has been wise to this for some time.They use technologies that, to carry your envelope analogy on, inspects the envelopes for signs that they come from a VPN. If they’re sealed, or if Netflix recognizes them as coming from a VPN’s address, it gives you an error message instead of sending back packets with your movie in them.
Luckily, there’s a way around this too. It’s called ‘obfuscation,’ which means ‘to make something less clear and harder to understand, especially intentionally.’ VPN obfuscation conceal sthe fact that you’re using a VPN by putting your sealed envelopes inside envelopes that look just like normal ones. Proxy detectors see normal traffic,but you’re still protected and anonymous.
Choosing a VPN for Netflix
Streaming is one of the main reasons people use VPNs, so it’s no surprise that the best VPNs for streaming are often also the best VPNs generally. Big names like Nord VPN, Express and Vypr are all solid choices. Obviously, you need to look for one that works with your devices and where you’re comfortable with the price, but most VPNs will give you a few days to a couple of weeks on a money-back guarantee so you can road-test them.
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