Netflix is cracking down on people using proxies to access different versions of the streaming service.
The VOD giant has proven itself a disruptive force in the film and TV industry, releasing titles such as Beasts of No Nation or House of Cards not just all at once, but in multiple countries to boot. Traditionally, though, media has been distributed using the old-fashioned model of licensing something region by region: the rights to a TV show or film will be sold to a company in one country, but could be sold to a completely different company in the neighbouring nation. Netflix’s library, therefore, shifts depending on where you’re accessing it from.
As a result, some people have in the past used proxy services to trick Netflix into thinking they’re located in another country – for example, allowing Netflix UK users to access Netflix’s US library.
Now, though, Netflix warns that is about to change.
“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,” wrote David Fullagar, Vice President of Content Delivery Architecture at Netflix, in a blog post today. “This 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.”
The announcement comes as Netflix continues to move towards its aim of being available in every country in the world – last week at CES 2016, the company simultaneously launched in 130 new markets, extending its reach to more than 190 countries. While its original titles are all available globally, though, third party content is not. Netflix may or may not be bothered by how exactly people access its library, but its partners are – many media outlets reported that the Sony email hack in 2014 revealed tensions between the studio and Netflix over proxy users, who were undermining the sale of their content in other territories.
Netflix, of course, would rather it had the rights to everything, so that everyone would have to subscribe to its service. But now that it does have a presence everywhere, it can start to enforce copyright laws without losing out on income from people in countries where it hasn’t officially launched.
“If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or ‘unblockers’ to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in,” noted Fullagar, promising that the company is “making progress in licensing content across the world”.
“But we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere,” he added. “Over time, we anticipate being able to do so.”
Alongside its new feature film production arm, Netflix has certainly focused a lot in recent months on partnering up with broadcasters from around the world to build its line-up of “original” – and, therefore, internationally available – series. Recent acquisitions and agreements range from ABC Family’s Shadowhunters, which premiered this week (with episodes now arriving every Wednesday), to a new deal announced today with E4 that will see the pair co-produce an online gaming-themed thriller.
In the future, will Netflix say goodbye to certain third party titles so that it can afford to buy the full worldwide rights to others? Or will Netflix will gradually phase out third party content altogether and focus, HBO-like, on its expanding library of “original” titles?
Last year, Netflix ended a deal with the distributor Epix in the US, choosing to prioritise its own content over the third party titles (which were promptly snapped up by Hulu).
“Just like we’ve changed the game for TV watchers by releasing entire seasons around the world at the same time, we have begun making movies that will premiere on Netflix globally and in some cases, simultaneously in theatres,” said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, at the time. “It will take us time to build a robust slate of original movies, but we’re hard at work on it with such great stars and directors as Brad Pitt, Ricky Gervais, Judd Apatow, Angelina Jolie, Sofia Coppola and Adam Sandler.”
Either way, for now, Netflix says that it will “respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location”.
“We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies,” concluded Fullagar.
For those who may find limited access frustrating, it’s worth remembering that despite common misconception, Netflix’s UK library has improved a lot in the last couple of years, that geographic restrictions have always been part of the Netflix terms and conditions, and that there are other subscription services available, often at a cheaper price. After all, a Netflix subscription isn’t obligatory (and even Netflix US doesn’t have everything); it’s possible to unsubscribe from Netflix (£7.49 a month) and subscribe to another site, then switch back at a later date.
As always, we’ll be here with the most comprehensive guide to what’s good on Netflix UK, what’s coming soon and what’s leaving soon – as well as what’s on the other VOD services available in the UK.
Other subscription VOD services in the UK:
Amazon Prime Video (£5.99 a month)
Amazon has deals with Warner Bros, AMC and Studiocanal, among others, which means it has the rights to DC Comic Book series such as Arrow, the animated and live-action Batman adventures, Mad Men, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, The Imitation Game, Under the Skin and Shaun the Sheep the Movie. Amazon original titles include The Man in the High Castle, Ripper Street and Golden Globe winners Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle.
NOW TV (£6.99 a month for TV shows, £9.99 a month for movies)
NOW TV offers live and on-demand access to a sizeable chunk of Sky’s Pay-TV content, be it TV shows such as The Affair, Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful and The Walking Dead Season 6, or the whole of Sky Movies, including Whiplash, Birdman, Selma, Guardians of the Galaxy and the entire Star Wars and Harry Potter sagas.
MUBI (£4.99 a month)
MUBI adds a new film every day, with films available for 30 days, resulting in a revolving carousel of world cinema and cult films. Titles available this month include Catch Me if You Can, Hero, Revolutionary Road, Shoah and The Squid and the Whale.
BFI Player Plus (£4.99 a month)
The BFI’s VOD service recently introduced its subscription package, which focuses on classic, acclaimed and indie films, such as Eyes without a Face, Hithcock’s The Lodger, Black Narcissus and Seven Samurai.
Photo: Nathaniel Bell for Netflix