In the aftermath of World War 2, the British Empire rapidly declined, while the United States ascended to superpower status. That same time period, beginning around the midpoint of the 20th century, is when we saw some of the most significant technological advances in all of human history. The advent of the computer, and later the internet, would propel US culture and media into the global mainstream. But even before then, the emergence of Hollywood, Blues music, rock and roll, and a number of other American innovations were cementing their status as a cultural superpower.
Now that streaming services have made on-demand content the norm, there is a growing appetite for US media that is showing no signs of abating. The United States produces entertainment that is enjoyed the world over, transcending cultural and linguistic barriers. Much of that content is available through various online services. If you live in the USA that is.
Netflix is the current king of the streaming services market; it is used by people around the world to watch TV shows and movies. While Netflix continues to expand its non-English language offerings, it is still dominated in all regions by American content. Given the global reach of the domestic film and TV output in the US, rights holders are able to strike lucrative deals with overseas distributors to distribute content outside the USA.
If you have a hit TV show that distributors around the world are falling over themselves to secure rights to, of course, you are going to milk it for all it is worth. Why sell the rights to one distributor when you can sell it to several? The result of this is that a single movie or TV show might have several different distributors attached – one for each region.
While services like Netflix and Amazon Prime might secure the rights to distribute content in the US, it might not be available to users in other regions. There are also innumerable TV shows that post clips of the show to YouTube, but only make them available to US users.
Fortunately, for those that don’t want to wait until the rights holders strike a deal to show content in their country, there are ways of accessing region-blocked content. In fact, it’s easier than you might think.
How Does it Work?
In order to understand how we can easily get around these region-locking restrictions, it is first helpful to understand exactly how region locking works online.
Whenever a device connects to the internet, be it a smartphone, a games console or a laptop, it needs to be assigned something called an Internet Protocol address – an IP address. IP addresses are automatically assigned by internet service providers (ISPs) when a device first connects to the internet. Without an IP address, a device cannot complete the TCP/IP handshake that it needs in order to connect to other devices.
Every device that connects to the internet is assigned a unique IP address. The IP address can be used to trace a connection back to a physical location – you can try this out for yourself by heading to tracemyip.org or any other similar site where you can find your IP address and, hopefully, see the approximate area where you are located.
Websites and other online services need only to check the IP address of any devices that connect to them in order to decide whether to allow them to view content or not, making locking stuff according to the geographic region a simple process.
How Can I Beat It?
Let’s quickly recap the process of connecting to a website or online service: When you try to connect to a website from your device, you enter a URL or search term into your browser. When you do this, your device uses the Domain Name System (DNS) to look up the IP address of the server that the website you’re connecting to is stored on. For websites that receive lots of traffic, users are automatically diverted to different servers to ensure an even spread of the load.
The DNS is like a phonebook for the internet. Without the DNS, your device wouldn’t know what server to connect to. When you want to access another page on the website, you click a link, which sends a request to the website server for the linked content. The website server processes user requests and returns the results.
When your device first establishes a connection to a server, and at various points during its session, it reveals its IP address to the server. If the IP address is a UK IP address, the server won’t serve content that requires a US IP address.
In order to circumvent the region locking, users can connect to an intermediary server, one which is located in the USA, and then use that server to interface with online services. This intermediary server is usually either a VPN or a US proxy server.
If your goal is to watch region-locked content from anywhere in the world, a proxy is better than a VPN. VPNs are better for some things, but not for this. Users of a VPN will share their IP address with other users of the same service. That IP address will also be identifiable as being related to a VPN service, making it susceptible to blacklisting.
On the other hand, a residential proxy will be all but indistinguishable from a regular person’s internet connection. To get a better understanding, these proxies utilize residential IP addresses, meaning that they will trace back to residential areas rather than commercial properties such as huge data centers.
You should never sign up with a free VPN or proxy service – they are almost certainly stealing your data. Many proxy providers will offer free trials, which are worth taking them up on if available. Whatever you do, make sure to research any businesses you are considering before you commit to them, you don’t want to end up using a malicious proxy service.
With this simple trick, users from anywhere in the world can access US-only content on any website or platform they choose. Of course, you can use proxy servers in other regions to achieve the same effect for other region-locked content.