Why Streaming Services Block VPNs & How To Bypass

Why Streaming Services Block VPNs & How To Bypass

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It seems like there’s an eternal battle between streaming services and VPN providers, as they’re caught in a constant game of cat and mouse.

They’re currently stuck in a stalemate, as services like Netflix try their best to keep an army of online streamers at bay, often unsuccessfully. However, streaming platforms have managed to block a majority of free VPNs, and proxies are unlikely to work well for extended periods. 

How and why do streaming services limit the use of VPNs, and what steps should you take in order to avoid choosing a blocked service? Here’s everything you need to know about using a VPN with a streaming service, and why they try their best to keep international users at arm’s length.

Key Insights

Why Streaming Services Block VPNs

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Before we get into the how, let’s discuss why streaming services block the use of VPNs.

Typically, it’s to enforce the international broadcasting deals they sign, the rights for which may be specific to a location or region. (In case you weren’t aware, some platforms offer different content depending on the country, while others only operate within a specific region.)

For example, the Netflix Terms of Use state:

“You may access the Netflix content primarily within the country in which you have established your account and only in geographic locations where we offer our service and have licensed such content. The content that may be available will vary by geographic location and will change from time to time.”

In other words, Netflix would appreciate it if you stick to the region in which you’re currently residing, as they probably don’t actually have the license to legally show you a lot of foreign content.

Switching to a VPN server masks your online movements, and will also assign the user with a new IP address. This can be used to make it appear as though you’re in a different country, unblocking many restricted websites and services.

Unblock your favorite TV shows and movies with a secure VPN.

Companies like Netflix have a legal obligation to stop users from accessing shows and movies if they haven’t paid a fee for the rights to broadcast it to them, as it would harm their relationship with partners if they allowed others’ content to be viewed freely.   

Another example would be the BBC, which has a free-to-air app (iPlayer) available in the UK. They sell lots of content via the BBC Studios platform, and despite the challenges seen during the pandemic, they generated about $205 million in profit for 2020 to 2021.

They’ll lose out on significant revenue streams if international users are able to watch their content for free via the iPlayer app rather than with local partners who have paid for the broadcasting rights. 

The problem is, regions like the US and the UK tend to have more content than others on platforms like Netflix, leading to a two-tier system. It’s frustrating to use a hamstrung service, especially if you know that other regions get much better value for the money. 

How Streaming Services Block VPNs

Double VPN Graphic

I know it might sound hard to believe, but the majority of streaming apps and services were incredibly basic a decade ago. Forget encountering lag or bugs (which were commonplace; many had no form of anti-VPN software, and you could use a simple proxy to gain access. 

Take streaming giant Netflix, which has morphed into one of the biggest entertainment services in the world. It was only released in 2007, or a couple of years after many of the early commercial VPN providers. It’s now a staple of everyday life, but it’s taken time to perfect the software.

I was reviewing VPN services in 2016, and even then, the majority of premium services were still able to unblock the likes of Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Hulu with ease. 

Around that time I did notice that many free services began to ask for an account, as well as an address in the country to try and limit the use of VPNs. For example, free UK streaming platforms like BBC iPlayer, 4OD and ITV never used to require login credentials, but had to find some way to stop international users from accessing their content.

You could input almost any physical address, so they decided to go one step further by banning the IP addresses associated with the VPN that was used to access their apps and websites. If the number of simultaneous connections coming from an IP address is abnormal, they’ll ban it directly. This doesn’t affect the end-user, but it makes the VPN server useless for accessing their content.

If the number of simultaneous connections coming from an IP address is abnormal, streaming services will ban it directly.

For example, Hulu started blocking users accessing the site from IP addresses linked to VPN services in April 2014. 

Then in September of 2014, despite Netflix being blocked in Australia, it was estimated that there were anything from 20,000 to 200,000 subscribers within the region. They too began VPN blocking via IP inspection. 

The BBC also did so in October 2015, with a spokesperson telling The Register: 

“We regularly make updates to our technology to help prevent access to BBC iPlayer from outside the UK, which breaks our terms of use…BBC iPlayer is freely available to users across the UK without a VPN, and we also seek to ensure users of private VPNs such as those used by schools and companies in the UK have access.”

This signaled the end for many proxies and free VPN services, as the only way to circumvent a ban is to purchase more IP addresses, which is a costly endeavor. This means that the best method to access streaming sites with a VPN when facing issues is to reconnect to a new server, as you’ll be assigned with a different IP.

The Future of VPN Blocking 

VPN usage exploded during the beginning of the pandemic, and streaming services can’t be happy that they’re missing out on significant revenue.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they begin to target VPNs more aggressively in the future, especially if they also offer live events like sports. (Think of DAZN, ESPN, or Amazon’s foray into Premier League soccer.)

In any case, they’re likely to keep their cards close to their chests for the time being, while the best VPNs will surely work on any counter-measures.

Best VPNs for Streaming

We’ve listed some of the best VPNs for streaming the various streaming platforms favored by users. In terms of relevant criteria to look out for, we’d advise opting for a VPN with numerous high-speed servers, so they’ll have lots of IP addresses that can be used when connecting to a service.

No matter what they claim, no service will be able to unblock streaming services with a 100% success rate. If the likes of Netflix are able to deploy a viable new method to ban VPN usage, it would be smart to be able to use a money-back guarantee. (This is especially important if you only plan to use a VPN for streaming.)

Check out our top picks for unblocking streaming services to get started. 

VPNLowest PriceCountry Count# of Devices
CyberGhost$2.29/mo.917
NordVPN$3.99/mo.606
IPVanish$3.75/mo.52Unlimited
Surfshark$2.21/mo.65Unlimited
Private Internet Access$2.19/mo.8310

CyberGhost

CyberGhost is one of the best VPNs for accessing streaming content, with a variety of servers specifically optimized to work with Netflix, Hul, and more. It continually adds new locations to their ever-expanding network, so you can always reconnect to a new location if you run into any issues. They currently offer over 7,600 VPN servers in 91 countries.

It’s clear that CyberGhost is one of the better providers in terms of unblocking content, especially in smaller markets such as Germany, which aren’t shown enough love by most VPNs.

NordVPN

Another capable provider, NordVPN will be able to handle your streaming needs without breaking a sweat. While they predominantly focus on privacy, NordVPN has capable high-speed servers (roughly 5,300 in 60 countries) that can be used to unblock content. If you’d prefer, they also offer dedicated IP addresses, so you’ll never have to worry about switching servers to get started.

Operating in the jurisdiction of Panama, they’ve been around since 2012, and we have a step-by-step guide that takes you through how to stream Netflix with NordVPN if you’d like to learn more.

IPVanish

IPVanish is another viable pick for anyone interested in unblocking streaming content. They have over 2,000 servers in 75 different locations around the world, which translates to an impressive 40,000 IP addresses in total. 

Our IPVanish review notes: “It took a few tries to connect to some streaming platforms, but it was successful when unblocking multiple Netflix libraries like Netflix US and Netflix Japan. In addition, we were able to access Disney+ as well as ESPN+ (primarily the US for sports).”

Overall, it’s a solid package for anyone interested in entertainment and privacy.

SurfShark

The highly affordable SurfShark has the ability to unblock a range of popular streaming services from multiple regions. Some of the more popular streaming apps are listed below:

  • Netflix
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Disney+
  • Prime Video
  • HBONow
  • Hulu
  • DAZN
  • Hotstar
  • Sky Go
  • YLE Areena
  • AbemaTV

They have a respectable 3,200+ servers on offer in 65 countries, and they offer a free seven-day trial that can be used to access 30+ Netflix libraries.

This is one of the more comprehensive services in terms of accessing streaming content, with the added bonus of allowing unlimited device connections with a single account.

Private Internet Access (PIA)

Last, but by no means last, Private Internet Access (PIA) is a respected VPN service with dedicated server locations created exclusively for bypassing streaming blocks.

PIA should be able to provide access to the following Netflix libraries upon sign-up:

  • United Kingdom
  • United States 
  • Netherlands 
  • Canada
  • Denmark 
  • Sweden 
  • Japan 

You can find a full list of compatible streaming platforms here. It includes the likes of BBC iPlayer, Netflix, and ZDF, although they advise accessing content through a web browser for the best results.

VPNs vs. Streaming Services

It feels like there is an endless battle between VPNs and streaming services, even if they’re relatively evenly matched in the present day. 

In the beginning, it was open season for VPN providers, as every service seemed to be able to unblock almost anything with no hassle. Of course, this was way before streaming services had begun to perfect the current techniques used to protect their content.

Consider the example of HideMyAss (HMA), which was created in 2005 by a sixteen-year-old in just a few hours using open-source code. 

Jack Cator wanted to circumvent restrictions when accessing games and music websites from his school network, forming the foundation of a business that was eventually acquired by AVG Technologies for $40 million with an additional $20 million earn-out if certain milestones were met in 2015.

The point is, the ability to access restricted content is one of the major selling points of a VPN and represents a significant portion of the user base for many providers. 

To drive that point home, a 2021 study by Cornell found that “students are mostly concerned with access to content and privacy concerns were often secondary.” This sentiment is echoed by many users, so VPNs are obliged to try and access streaming sites unless they’re willing to pass up on a large chunk of change.

Conclusion

Streaming services have to try to block the use of VPNs, and they’re slowly getting better at it. 

I could envision a time in which it’ll be almost impossible to access blocked content, perhaps in a more sanitized version of the internet that is yet to exist. 

However, the best streaming VPNs are tenacious and are likely to deploy new methods to get past these restrictions as it’s a core part of their business model. That’s why it’s a constant game of cat and mouse, with no real winner aside from users who get to watch content that would otherwise be blocked or unavailable. 

Ideally, streaming sites and services would be able to offer uniformity across all regions, so there would be no difference in terms of the shows and movies available to users. Why should it matter whether you’re in Canada or the United States

Original content like Squid Game is one answer, but it’ll be tough to replace shows like The Office, or even licensed movies that stay popular. Expect the battle to rage on in the meantime.

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