Rumour control: Netflix’s VPN crackdown – and your other VOD options
James R | On 11, Jan 2015
Netflix has confirmed that is not cracking down on users accessing content available in other countries.
Earlier this month, VPN provider TorGuard reported that Netflix users had started to experience error messages when trying to access content not available in their country.
“A few weeks ago we received the first report from a handful of clients that Netflix blocked access due to VPN or proxy usage,” TorGuard’s Ben Van der Pelt told TorrentFreak.
“This is the very first time I’ve ever heard Netflix displaying this type of error message to a VPN user.”
The theory proposed by Van deer Pelt was that Netflix was testing a new IP blocking method in certain markets in response to pressure from studios to ensure that only those in the correct territories could stream content.
A week is a long time in the Internet, though, and while reports started to fly everywhere of Netflix’s crackdown on “geo piracy” – which breaks the terms of a user’s Netflix contract – the VOD service has since rubbished the claims altogether.
Netflix, though, appears not to be in a hurry to change their existing measures any time soon.
“The claims that we have changed our policy on VPN are false,” said Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt at the CES at the end of this week. “People who are using a VPN to access our service from outside of the area will find that it still works exactly as it has always done.”
Why all the fuss? The film industry is broken up into different markets around the world – much like releases being staggered in cinemas across countries, the rights to stream a film or TV show is sold to different VOD companies. When Netflix gets its content from studios, then, it is only licenced to distribute it in that specific territory. There are exceptions, such as its recent deal with Warner Bros. to stream Gotham worldwide to all Netflix users globally, but if you sign into Netflix in the US, the line-up will differ to the UK.
In an ideal world, streaming rights would apply to all countries, giving users a chance to see something for a single subscription fee. But the film industry doesn’t think like that – and it isn’t set up to make its money like that. Netflix, on the other hand, does make money from it: according to new figures from GlobalWebIndex, Netflix has millions of users in countries where it doesn’t offer a service. In China, for example, there are more than 20 million users accessing Netflix via VPNs. The number of paid subscribers is technically lower, thanks to people sharing accounts with friends, but that’s a healthy income stream for the company, despite the pressure to be more active in reinforcing its licensing restrictions.
For some Netflix users, being able to access everything for £6.99 a month is a fair deal. In fact, it’s something they expect. Some have taken to the web this week to say that they would simply turn to piracy if Netflix were to block VPN access, leaving them unable to access a TV show or film. But 90 per cent of popular TV shows and films are available online legally, according to recent research. There are more streaming services out there than just Netflix – and that’s arguably a good thing. On the one hand, multiple providers means market fragmentation, which can be frustrating. On the other hand, if it were just a single subscription VOD service the world over, with everything available on Netflix, the company would be able to charge any membership fee they liked; competition is important not only to drive growth in the streaming industry, but also to prevent consumers being overcharged. With no contracts or minimum commitments, consumers are able to chop and change to subscribe to any service they want, depending on what they’re looking to watch.
So for those in the UK who are annoyed by not being able to find something on Netflix, don’t forget that these subscription services also exist.
Amazon Prime Instant Video
Amazon’s subscription service costs £5.99 a month and includes such TV shows as Mad Men, Constantine and Community, plus movies such as Under the Skin, 12 Years a Slave, Life of Pi, Pitch Perfect, Kick-Ass and Argo. Sign up for a year (£79) and Amazon Prime gives members free next-day delivery too – with a discount for students.
Sky’s VOD service costs £9.99 a month, but tries to offset that high cost with its exclusive deals signed with studios to get the most recent releases first, from The LEGO Movie and Captain America: The Winter Soldier to Starred Up and Frozen.
MUBI is the most overlooked yet also the arguably the best value VOD service in the UK. One new international or indie film is added every day, be it Jean-Luc Godard or The Road, although each one has an expiry date to keep its cycle of content fresh. The price? £2.99 a month. If you like your art house, you’ll probably like this.