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‘Content unavailable in your location’ – What To Do

Posted by Jamie on August 14, 2018

As streaming video content has become one of the most popular methods of watching our favorite TV shows and movies, more and more of us have seen an annoying error message up: “Content unavailable in your location’. What does this message mean, and what can you do about it?

First off, the good news is that there’s nothing wrong with your hardware and software and your streaming provider isn’t having a problem. Everything is working the way it’s supposed to work. So why does this error message pop up?

Geoblocking

It all boils down to content licensing. The producers of music, movies and TV shows don’t generally sell licenses for their content on a global basis. Instead, they prefer 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. So 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 been negotiated (or the negotiations failed to reach a mutually agreeable price), 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.

What to do when you see ‘Content unavailable in your location’2

How does a service know that content is unavailable in your location?

If you use a streaming service, how does it know what titles you can view? When you log into your streaming service, it will first check your account to see what level of service you have and then 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 to avoid seeing ‘Content unavailable in your location’

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 of the territory you want to appear to be in. Usually, that is the US, as we have the widest range of titles 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.

There are basically two ways to change an IP address, a proxy or VPN (virtual private network). 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 many primary stream providers know about proxies and mitigate against them.

The other option is a VPN. TechJunkie is very much in favor of VPNs as they not only avoid ‘Content unavailable in your location’ situations, but they also offer an important layer of security for all of 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.

If you want to know more about more 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 do when you see ‘Content unavailable in your location’3

What to look for in a VPN?

There are a few important features a good quality VPN will provide as part of the service. They include:

  • No logging
  • Multiple destination VPN servers
  • Good levels of encryption
  • Work with Netflix or other streams
  • Regular updates

No logging

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, you would want a service with multiple US IP addresses to avoid seeing that annoying ‘Content unavailable in your location’ message.

Good levels of encryption

Encryption isn’t so important for accessing streamed content 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 include OpenVPN and WPA-2 but there are more options available.

Work with Netflix or other streams

Netflix is fighting hard against VPNs. It’s forced to by its license holders, otherwise titles would have begun to be restricted. Even if you’re not using Netflix, selecting a VPN provider that works with the service means they are aware of the fight back and actively keep IP addresses changing so as not to be blocked. If a service mentions the stream provider you use, all the better.

Regular updates

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. It is an indication of how they value their users which is usually reflected elsewhere in the product too.

If you would like specific recommendations on VPN services, read ‘What is the Best VPN Service?’ Research each one and make a choice using the criteria above and whether they work with your streaming service or not.

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!

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