Updated – March 24th, 2017
Hollywood executives, book publishers, and their lawyers have not figured out that the internet has made geographic boundaries moot. Armies and politicians are free to fight over where to paint these imaginary lines, but the rest of us don’t care from what country we get our video, music, and books. The only thing that concerns foreigners, expatriates, and those travelling overseas is that most television and movies come from the USA and people outside that country are cut off. Hollywood has put up technical barriers where the internet suggests they should not exist. Don’t fret. There is a technical workaround for that.
The Motion Picture Association, HBO, Time Warner, Sony, and Simon and Schuster book publishers don’t understand that the internet offers a world where location does not matter or is not supposed to matter. Or they do understand that and have cut access to foreign locations to boost profits. Ask them why they do this, and they will tell it is because their contracts do not allow the export of their content, unless such licenses are in place. Well, that’s usually true, but they are not rushing to change that.
How many times have you tried to access something like, say, Pandora.com or Hulu outside the USA only to kicked off rudely with the message “We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints…we cannot offer access to our service outside the USA?” Bullocks.
To understand why this is the case, you have to think about the history of media and publishing contracts. The internet has changed much; copyright law and media and publishing contracts have not. To see this, open up your copy of Alice Munro’s latest collection of short stories (You still read don’t you? She won the Nobel Prize, after all.), and you will see one page 1 “copyright Random House London, New York, and Sydney.” These companies are used to operating in one geographical market at a time and then negotiating foreign rights to other publishers or their own foreign subsidiaries.
The same is true for music. When the Beatles released their first records in London, they released them in the USA under a different label.
Regarding the wide screen, the movie studios still want you crowd into the theater, with some clown kicking you in the back, to pay $15 to see the latest movie. Then they want to charge you again to see it on pay-per-view and $20 more when they finally get around to releasing it on DVD. Where they really make their money (at least for the worst films) are overseas, but getting to see those overseas can take a while. If you live in Timbuktu, you will be watching last year’s Oscar winners after this year’s Oscars have aired.
Television does the same thing. You can watch The Big Bang Theory around the world, with subtitles in different languages, but you cannot watch it on the internet in the USA or anywhere else. There they are not blocking content. They just don’t want to lose the profits that come from cable company fees. One day, the internet put an end to that.
Netflix tried to make inroads into the profitable Hollywood movie business model, but was seriously rebuffed, when Hollywood cut them off from new-release movies, after a trial of a year or two. Netflix then switched to offering older movies, broadcasting television reruns, and, now, producing their own content. The television studios too figured out that showing reruns online is good business, so they banded together and started Hulu.com. The problem for us is: Hulu does not work outside the USA. Neither does the American version of Netflix.
Now, Netflix has gone local. They recently started operating in the UK and various countries around the world as has Amazon book sales but not Amazon Prime video. Netflix’s offering is customized for each market, with subtitles in the local language, but the largest collection of films and television is at Netflix USA.
So if you do not live in the USA or are travelling abroad, what can you do? The answer is VPN, which you can get for something like $5 per month.
VPN (virtual private network) is a service that lets you sit in a café in, say, Budapest and pretend you are in, say, New York. It does this by making two hops across the internet. First you connect from Budapest to a VPN provider in Hungary. Then they pass along your signal to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or whoever you are trying to reach by passing through a computer located in the USA.
For those of you who are not computer programmers, the way the internet works is everyone who connects to the internet gets an ip address, like 126.96.36.199. (You can check your IP address by going to the web site WhatisMyIP.) That ip address number is needed so that when you are, say, viewing a video on YouTube, YouTube knows where to send the signal.
The problem with this is the ip address gives away who you are buying your internet from, at least what country there are in. For example in Germany it might be Deutsche Telekom. Since you are in Germany, and since Hollywood is operating like it is 1952, Hollywood won’t let you watch Das Boat on Netflix USA, even if it is a German film. It’s maddening enough to make the Kaiser want to take up arms again.
So the angry German needs to sign up for ExpressVPN to literally hide where they are located from Netflix and others. Then the happy German located in Germany can connect to a ExpressVPN server located in the USA and stream videos as if he were in fact in the US. Netflix then thinks you are in the USA. Now you can watch the American version of Netflix. Voilà.
Seeing how this works is easier that reading about it. So download ExpressVPN and give it a try. You can try with little risk as they have a 30 day money back guarantee. It works on your Android device, PC, iPad, and even MAC OSX. When you install it, don’t worry about those messages that it wants to create a new network connection on your computer—that is OK.
It’s easy to use. Just launch it, select what country you want to emulate (There are several.), and click connect or disconnect. Now go to WhatisMyIP.com and see what it says. It should say you are located somewhere in the USA. Now try to access Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Pandora and smile in amazement 🙂
Some have made the observation that accessing streaming video over a VPN connection can be slow. That can be true. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, you are using two computers instead of one. Someone from the Deep South would say that’s like going around your elbow to get to your backside. Second, the VPN connection usually uses encryption. That is not at all necessary when you are watching videos. It just increases the amount of data that is sent. But there seems to be no way to turn encryption off with Tunnel Bear or ExpressVPN, probably because it is built into the VPN protocol.[box type=”note” style=”rounded” icon=”none”]Side Note: The encryption offered by ExpressVPN is great for protecting yourself when logging onto the internet from a public WIFI connection. Don’t ever log onto internet banking or access other personal information unless you’ve encrypted your internet traffic or trust your internet connection.[/box]
The good news is it does not matter if the Internet is slow. The Silverlight plugin needed to play Netflix on Windows—and similar tools on the iPad and Android devices—is designed to work when the internet slows down. They do this by buffering the signal and, in the case of Netflix, adjusting the video quality. That is a very clever way of making sure there is no interruption in what you are watching. (If your internet service provider is not dependable, Netflix can do nothing about that. Find another company.)
So there is no reason to sit around you hotel watching Risky Business dubbed into Spanish when you can watch Downtown Abbey. Download a VPN client and connect. You will feel better having bypassed the Motion Picture Association of America and their silly rules.