Streaming video over the Internet has become one of the most popular methods of watching TV shows and movies, but the rise of this technology has also meant occasional encounters with a strange and confusing error message: “Content unavailable in your location”. What does this message mean, and what can you do about it?
The good news is that it isn’t a problem with your computer, or your Internet connection, or with the streaming service. In fact, this message indicates that things are working the way they’re supposed to. So why does this error message pop up?
Why does Netflix say not available in my location? (Netflix error code 22004)
Unavailable content almost always boils down to one thing: content licensing. When a movie studio or production house creates a film or TV show, they have a whole sheaf of rights to that content. They rarely sell all of those rights at once to the same buyer, instead preferring to sell those licenses on a country-by-country or region-by-region basis. The reason is simple – they can usually get more money for their content that way. Content distributors like TV channels or streaming services would prefer to get one license for the content at a big discount, while the providers would rather sell lots of smaller licenses and make more revenue. If you’re trying to download or stream a show in one region of the world, but the content license for that region hasn’t yet been negotiated (or if the owners of the show for whatever reason have decided not to sell it in that region at all), then you’ll see that irritating error.
This isn’t the fault of Netflix or Hulu or other legitimate streaming services. They’d like to show you “Orange is the New Black” in New Zealand, or whatever combination of program and location is currently frustrating you, but they’re not legally allowed to. Much of the rest of the world has moved on and embraced globalization, but the creative industries haven’t. They are set on keeping total control over the content they own and rather than sell a global license to Netflix or Hulu, they negotiate licensing with each territory. There are huge variations in the types of content available in each region outside the US and this is why. For example, the US version of Netflix has over 6,000 titles in its library. Yet the UK version has around 4,000 titles and Australian Netflix only 2,400.
If you live in the EU, things are about to change as the European Parliament has voted to introduce new content portability rules that will enforce equal availability to content across the entire EU. For the rest of the world, things are not quite so rosy. Nothing changes for those of us in the US, but we do tend to get the best deal anyway.
If you use a streaming service like Hulu, how does it know what titles you can view? When you log into your streaming service, it will check your account to see what level of service you have and it will check your IP address to see where in the world you are. IP address ranges have geographical links, so an IP address range in the US will be different from any available in the EU, UK or Australia. The service will check your IP against its geographical database to find out where in the world you are. It will then compare it to the licensing database that tells the service what content to display and allow to play. It is a relatively unsophisticated system but it works (for the content providers, anyway). As usual, it is the consumer who loses out.
How can I hide my region online?
A simple solution thus presents itself. If a streaming service checks your IP address to see where in the world you are, you need to acquire an IP address that makes it look like you are in a territory where you are allowed to view the content that you want to see. Usually, that is the US, as the US has the widest range of titles, simply because most license holders are based here and start their license sales efforts here. Europe comes next, Australia and the Pacific countries trail behind, and the rest of the world waits patiently or not so patiently. Sometimes, however, you want to work it the other way; for example, the upcoming “Picard” TV series is going to air on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the rest of the world. Someone with Amazon Prime Video but not CBS All Access might want to appear as though they live in France rather than in New Jersey.
There are basically two ways to change an IP address: a proxy or a virtual private network (VPN)). Proxies are dedicated servers that fool programs into thinking the IP address is different than it is. Proxies are useful for avoiding regimes that don’t allow creative freedom but are also useful for security and file sharing. They are not very effective for video streaming though as the streaming media providers know about proxies and actively block all the known ones. New proxies spring up constantly, but the effective lifespan of a new video streaming proxy is pretty short. For the most part, the streaming providers have the upper hand in this contest.
The other option is a VPN. VPNs are a great technology, and not just because they let you watch “Picard” from Ohio. VPNs allow you to put a protective cloak of confidentiality over your internet activity. Even if you are beyond reproach and have nothing to hide, that doesn’t mean third-parties should be able to track everything you do online, and a good VPN helps to maintain your privacy.
For more detailed background information about VPNs, read ‘What is a VPN Tunnel and How Does it Protect Your Data?’ or ‘How to Set Up a VPN in Windows 10’.
What to look for in a VPN?
A high-quality VPN has a number of features that are non-negotiable. These include:
- No logging
- Multiple destination VPN servers
- Good levels of encryption
- Work with Netflix or other streams
- Regular updates
No logging means that the VPN provider will not keep activity logs for users. Even if they receive a court order or subpoena, they will not be able to tell a court what you do online as there will be no record of what you did. This is referred to as activity logging. A different type of log, ‘connectivity logging’ is usually enabled, but only to help troubleshooting and quality. No identifiable data is contained in connectivity logs.
Multiple destination VPN servers
To circumvent geoblocking, you will require a destination VPN server in the territory you need. For example, to gain access to the full range of Netflix titles from Europe or Australia, you would want a service with multiple US IP addresses to get access to the widest possible range of content.
Good levels of encryption
Encryption isn’t particularly important for accessing streamed content for which you are paying the subscription fee, but is an added benefit for all browsing activities. Anyone watching your connection will not be able to see what you are doing or where you go. Acceptable encryption protocols include OpenVPN and WPA-2 but there are more options available.
Work with Netflix or other streams
Netflix and other streamingservices are fighting hard against VPNs. They are forced to do so by their license holders. Even if you’re not using Netflix specifically, selecting a VPN provider that works well with Netflix is wise, because it indicates that the VPN service is aware of the potential for issues, and actively change their IP addresses so that the streaming companies cannot block them. If a VPN service mentions working well with the stream provider you use, all the better.
Regular updates refers to the VPN client, protocols, encryption methods and IP address ranges as mentioned above. As bugs and weaknesses are found, a good quality VPN provider will fix them immediately to keep users safe. Not all providers do this, so look for ones that do. The frequency of their updates is an indication of how they value their users – and that’s going to be reflected elsewhere in the product too.
If you would like general recommendations on VPN services, read ‘What is the Best VPN Service?’; check out our article on the Best VPN Services [October 2019] for our viewpoint on the currently-available providers. Research each one and make a choice using the criteria above and whether they work with your streaming service or not.
If you are serious about your VPN game, you might want to check out this Roqos VPN-equipped router that protects your whole network with a VPN service.
Do you use a VPN? Have any recommendations for one that circumvents ‘Content unavailable in your location’ messages? Tell us about it below if you do!