Netflix set to lock down VPNs: What will this mean?

Alex Kidman 15 January 2016

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Netflix has announced aggressive new measures to block geododging viewers. What will that mean for Australian Netflix users?

Before Netflix even launched in Australia last year it had a healthy number of subscribers, often estimated to be around 200,000 in total. That was thanks to the use of VPN services and DNS redirection applications that made it seem to the US company as though Australian users were in fact located in the States, alongside the company’s happy attitude to taking Australian credit cards as a method of payment.

Netflix is still very happy to take your Australian credit card, but having just recently gone global everywhere but China, Crimea, Syria and North Korea, it has announced it will be taking more aggressive measures to ensure that users can only view content in the country that their Netflix account actually emanates from.

But I want the larger libraries elsewhere! Why would they do that?

Netflix does have larger libraries outside of Australia (you can compare them precisely here), especially in the USA, although it’s worth noting that we don’t just have a subset of that library, thanks to differing regional rights.

It’s those same regional rights to content that are at the heart of why Netflix would be making this move. When it licenses a program (or more realistically, a library of programs) or movie, it does so from a rights holder who may have already sold the local streaming rights in a given country to another provider.

That's because the other provider may have been there first, or may simply be willing to pay more money than Netflix calculates a given program or library of programs is worth.

This, for example, is why Foxtel has the local streaming rights for Game Of Thrones, although not for its Presto streaming service, just its Foxtel Play service. Or why there is content found on Stan or Presto that is present on Netflix US but not Netflix Australia.

In a blog post outlining the move to stop geododging, Netflix’s Vice President of Content Delivery Architecture David Fullagar states that it’s down to "the historic practice of licensing content by geographic territories" but that "we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location."

It’s not hard to see Netflix being under a great deal more pressure from content rights holders having so rapidly expanded its geographic reach, so while in the past it has largely paid lip service to those sneaking into its service, it may now have no choice but to more aggressively pursue methods to stop this happening. Its eventual stated aim is to have one global library of programs available to all its users, but is clearly some way from achieving that goal.

Does this mean my VPN will stop working for Netflix?

Netflix is very vague at this stage in relation to how it will go about stopping users from switching location via unblocking tools. That makes a certain amount of sense, because it is likely to be a bit of a cat and mouse game in terms of unblocking tools generally.

That being said, it is quite likely that the lowest hanging and most obvious tools, such as those that use DNS redirection or similar methodologies – so tools like Hola Unblocker, for example – will most likely be the first targets of any renewed push to stop bypassing country restrictions.

Because VPNs work by completely masking your actual IP address, they are a tougher nut to crack from a detection viewpoint, although not necessarily an entirely impossible one. It is quite likely that Netflix will be able to temporarily block some VPNs, and may well specifically target those that sell their services as content restriction dodging mechanisms.

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