It has happened to everyone. You are about to watch a video, but you see the sentence “Content is not available at your location.” Here’s why it happens.
What is geoblocking?
Geo-blocking, also called geo-filtering or region blocking, is when a business restricts the locations where a user can view a piece of content. All types of content can be geo-blocked, including articles, websites and services , but it is more important for videos. Virtually every streaming website and video-sharing service, from YouTube to Hulu, has some form of geoblocking enabled. Even if you’ve never had content explicitly blocked from your view, chances are you’ve still experienced some form of geoblocking.
Businesses can apply geographic filters to countries, states, cities, and even smaller locations like buildings and offices. The implementation varies from service to service. Some will allow you to browse the content, but prevent you from continuing to view it. Other websites will hide restricted content entirely, so you won’t know what’s available outside of your region. Netflix is a prominent example of this.
Why are services geo-blocked?
The most common reason for geoblocking is licenses or copyrights. To legally distribute a particular content in your region, a service must possess the distribution rights for that specific market. For many programs, it is common for a streaming service to have distribution rights in some markets but not others.
For example, some popular franchises like Friends and Harry Potter are available on Netflix Canada and Netflix UK, but not on Netflix EE . USA . Many of these shows are exclusively distributed in the US by other streaming services, such as Hulu or HBO Max . This is the same case with Youtube videos. For example, you may come across a clip from a movie that is geo-blocked in your country. This is likely because the person uploading the content, usually a movie distribution company, does not have the right to distribute the movie or its clips in their region.
Another reason geoblocking happens is to segment different markets. Some markets may have different prices, languages, and preferred content, so a streaming service will tailor an experience to a particular area. It is also the reason why some services are not available in certain countries. For example, many countries in Asia have local streaming services that are not available in the US.
A curious example of this practice is given in sports streaming . Many sports streaming services, like NBA League Pass, prevent viewers from streaming games at home in their state or city. This is done because traditional media outlets such as local sports channels often pay broadcast rights to show the match exclusively in their local area. It leads to a strange situation where the only people who cannot see a Utah Jazz game live on League Pass live in Utah.
How does it happen?
Businesses can turn to a variety of sources to determine their location. Applications will use your IP adress , GPS location or your custom location settings to determine where you are. If Netflix has access to your location information, it will pinpoint where you are every time you open the app. When you fly to a different country, you will notice that the movies and shows that you can access on Netflix will change.
Besides restricting movies, geographic location has some interesting uses. For instance, Snapchat implemented a feature several years ago called “geofilters.” These were custom Snapchat filters that users could only activate in a particular area. Geofilters often appeared at special events like concerts, sports games, weddings, or in small communities like college campuses. Marketers also use geographic filtering to create “hyper-localized” ads for people in a small geographic location.
How to move around geographic blocks
We know it’s frustrating to have so much restricted content for you, especially if you’ve run out of things to watch. Fortunately, there are a few ways to bypass geoblocking in streaming services.
The most common solution is to run a VPN or “virtual private network.” It is a service that redirects your internet traffic through a different third party IP address located in a different country. For example, if you connect to a server in Japan, you will suddenly get access to Netflix Japan. This method does not work for all streaming devices or services (some will try block your VPN ), but it’s a great way to expand your streaming library.
If you want to learn more about using a VPN, you can read our basic introduction to VPNs . When you’re ready to try one, consider our recommendations for best VPN services that exist.