Tips & Tricks

Streaming Service Geo-Blocking Explained

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Gone are the days when everything on the internet was freely available. Nowadays, most websites and especially streaming services use some form of geo-blocking. They use your registered IP address and location to shield their services or products. 

Have you ever tried to watch a Netflix show or a YouTube video and get a message saying ‘The content/service isn’t available in your location.’?  That is simply geo-blocking in action.  

What is geo-blocking? 

Geo-blocking or geo-restriction is a technique employed by companies that restrict people`s access to certain content or service depending on their geographical location. In a nutshell, geo-blocking prevents individuals in one country from accessing the content of another. 

Nowadays, major streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus now use this common tactic. It`s quite common for International media streaming companies to limit access to a particular location mainly due to copyright, licensing, price discrimination or just to block illegal content.  

Many streaming services use geo-blocking to divide and categorize users into several market segments. They include different offers for their services and boost their overall profit by dealing with individual areas rather than having one policy for the entire world. Producing TV shows and movies is quite expensive and so are the rights and licenses required to air them in a specific region. 

Chances are when a TV show or movie you love is not screening in your country or region then it has to do with money. Probably, no one is willing to meet the cost of the licenses. Global services like iPlayer, Netflix and HBO have to pay for the streaming of movies or TV shows that are not their own property. They could choose to exclude certain regions for financial reasons. 

How does geo-blocking work?

Websites and online streaming services are able to tell your location because of your IP address. Streaming services use your IP address to decide whether or not users should be granted access to view their content based on their location. When you connect to the service, it knows where your IP address is. Since your IP address has information that reveals your exact geo-location, the website will determine if it can or can’t display the requested content. 

So, if you try to access content from an IP address that is restricted or not on the allowed list, you`ll get blocked. When you hit a geo-block, you`ll either be blocked entirely, get partial access or redirected. You may get a message stating that the content you`re trying to access is not accessible or available in your country or region. 

Geo-blocking happens even if you pay for the service. For example, if you live in the US and you pay and watch Netflix all the time, you`ll not be able to access the same content if you go on vacation or travel to another country for business. 

How to bypass geo-blocking

Since geo-blocking is based on your IP address, the best way to bypass geo-restrictions is to find a method or way to hide it. If you`re one of those people who reside in countries with internet censorship or travel internationally, there is a way to stop the geo-restriction or geo-blocking of content. 

One of the ways you can use to bypass geo-blocking is through a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN allows you to access streaming services by hiding your real IP address and replacing it with the IP address of the VPN server you use. So, any website you access when using the VPN will only see the VPN server`s IP address.

There are VPNs for Disney Plus, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others, which can help you unlock content that you would not access from your location. The VPN will not only help you bypass geo-blocks, which refers to achieving internet freedom in this case but also help to keep your data secure from the prying eyes of cybercriminals. They use encryption to safeguard your online connections. 

VPNs come in two versions: a paid version and a free version. The paid version has more features and countries you can connect to while free VPNs tend to struggle when it comes to bypassing geo-blocks. They usually feature smaller networks than their paid rivals. Free VPNs also have a poor record in terms of privacy. In fact, research shows that out of 280 free VPN apps, about 40% of them have malware and more than 80% leak personal information.  

Why do many streaming services use geo-blocking?

By dividing the world into regions, international media streaming companies ensure that movies and TV shows can be launched in just one market at a time. Popular streaming sites like BBC and Netflix use geo-blocking because it’s one of the simplest ways to meet licensing terms. Geo-blocking is also beneficial to streaming services because they can charge differently in different markets depending on geographical regions. 

Is geo-blocking legal?

Whether geo-blocking is illegal or not varies by country. In countries like Australia, the United States and Canada, geo-restrictions are pretty standard since they are needed for complete compliance with licensing and copyright agreements. Currently, the EU seems to be taking a serious stand against geo-blocking, although things are still far from perfect.  

At the beginning of 2018, the EU declared a ban on unjustified geo-blocking. Take note that the ban does not apply if geo-blocking is necessary to make sure that there is compliance with legal requirements which essentially gives the ban a loophole.  

Final thoughts

Geo-blocking is the act of streaming services restricting access to internet content based on geographical location. Geo-restriction is done for various reasons including copyright regulations, censorship and profit. Since geo-blocking can be enforced because your IP address is visible on the internet, hiding your IP address is the only ideal geo-restriction bypass method. You can use a VPN to easily bypass geo-blocking and watch your favorite movies, TV shows and videos.

About the author

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Olivia

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