Ever wonder why you can access some movies and TV shows on Netflix while in USA but not when you are somewhere else? The country by country distribution model adopted by Netflix and many other streaming services do not allow you to access or receive content in every country on earth.

By restricting content to certain geographic locations, it seems like the decision of what users can watch is being made by streaming services themselves. In wake of this, the cross-border restrictions have stirred users to jump digital fences using common technology and access web content regardless of where they are located.   

This has caused some debate in last few months. More recently, a Canadian media executive, Mary Ann Turcke, was reported to accuse her fifteen year old daughter of stealing. Her daughter accessed US Netflix instead of Canadian Netflix using a VPN. If that’s not all, she branded all VPN users as thieves for accessing media content that they are not intended too. This allegation did pose a question whether accessing such geo restricted services via VPN is the same as piracy.  

How Do Users Jump Digital Fences?

Whatever the accusations put forth, with global expansion of online streaming services, cross border viewing has increased considerably over the years. So how do users access streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon from different locations?

The two most commonly used technologies that enable jumping digital fences are virtual private network (VPN) and smart DNS services. A VPN service offers numerous servers located across different countries. By connecting to these servers, you are able to hide your true location by masking your IP address and access geo restricted content. A VPN also allows you to evade internet censorships in countries like China, Russia, and Indonesia while keeping you anonymous over the internet.

On the other hand, a smart DNS service works differently than a VPN. It provides the initial authentication information needed to access Netflix and other geo blocked services. However, it doesn’t offer the encryption and anonymity that a VPN does.  

Netflix on the Rise as Cross Border Viewing Increases

Netflix has expanded to over fifty different countries around the world. However, with this expansion, cross border viewing through services like VPN have increased. The major reason for this is that users do not get the same media libraries across each of these Netflix regions. This is because of content licensing that only authorizes the content to be viewable in particular regions.

Currently, the US version of Netflix holds the largest number of titles a user can choose from. Compared to other Netflix regions like Canada, US Netflix is far more superior. For instance, Canadian Netflix has roughly over 200 titles available while US Netflix offers almost 2000 titles. Canadian Netflix users do not have access to shows like Scandal, The Office (US), New Girl, American Horror Story, Grey’ Anatomy, Sons of Anarchy, Burn Notice, Scrubs, and many more.    

Netflix is aware of its customers VPNing its content as earlier this year it started a crackdown on VPN users. This caused panic across certain parts of the internet but the news was somewhat overstated. However, Netflix has never provided a concrete solution to users accessing its libraries using VPNs, and have always stated that it’s not a big issue. They can, if they chose to do so, limit the use of VPN and DNS services accessing its media libraries.

Global Licenses the Key to Success

Perhaps a more viable solution for Netflix is to attain global licenses for its content and make it available for each of its regions. This would give Netflix a major strategic advantage over its competitors like Hulu and Amazon.

Having a worldwide license would solve the problem of VPN users. It would also remove all allegations that accused VPN users as thieves. But this does begs the question, will content owners be alright with receiving a big paycheck from Netflix or continue to sell right in particular region to make more money.

Signs are there that along with Netflix, other streaming services and channels should also push for worldwide content licenses. The recent boxing event between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao was one of the biggest fights in boxing history. The fight was only televised in certain parts of the world, with many users watching the fight online through service like VPN.

Whether streaming services like Netflix and content owners agree upon having global licenses for their content or not remains to be seen. For now we know that using the two most common technologies (VPN and smart DNS), you can continue to jump digital fences and access geo restricted channels from anywhere in the world.

Ameer Abbas

Ameer Abbas is a senior editor and a most viewed writer on Quora in Internet Privacy, Cyber Security, VPN and Torrents. He has continued work as a privacy advocate with Best VPN Provider and is working towards becoming an established privacy & security author online. Ameer takes a keen interest in technology, geo-political affairs and international cyber laws. Ameer loves outdoor sports including cricket, swimming, athletics, and football.
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