Everyone knows that VPNs boost your online privacy and amp up your data security. However, they’ve got many other uses as well. A VPN is a surprisingly powerful streaming enhancer, and many users get one specifically for that purpose. But not all VPNs are up to the task of unblocking Netflix and other streaming sites.
Private Internet Access, or PIA, is one of the most well-known VPNs. It’s established itself as one of the best privacy-enhancing services on the entire web. Though its security prowess is unquestionable, its streaming prowess is. Can PIA successfully unblock Netflix, Hulu and other streaming sites? Or is there a better alternative for all of us security-conscious binge-watchers?
Netflix and VPNs
How Does Netflix Block VPN Users?
When you visit a website, the site owner sees your IP address – the identifier assigned to your network by your ISP. That IP address lets the site owner monitor your activity on the site. It links you to the pages you visit and (in Netflix’s case) the account you use.
Typically, Netflix would see one or two IP addresses associated with your account. That’s because you usually use just a couple of networks to stream – your home network and occasionally one at work, school, a friend’s house or a public place. If you share your account with others, Netflix will see multiple IP addresses associated with it. Conversely, if you’re on a network with many other people, the same IP address might be associated with multiple accounts.
The latter situation is common enough that it’s ignored by Netflix most of the time. However, when it happens on a large scale, that indicates to Netflix that a VPN is being used. Why? Because a VPN assigns the same IP address to many different users.
Connect to a VPN server and chances are that you’ll be given an IP that’s already been used by hundreds or thousands of others. At least some of those users will have accessed Netflix while connected to the VPN. When Netflix sees many different accounts from around the world all using the same IP, it flags that IP as belonging to a VPN. And when that happens, anyone using that IP will be met with an error message when trying to access Netflix.
Why Doesn’t Netflix Allow VPNs?
So why does Netflix go through all this effort to block VPNs? What’s the big deal about wanting to protect your privacy and stream at the same time? Does Netflix hate internet security or something?
The truth is much more benign, but no less frustrating. It all has to do with content licensing: the process by which Netflix obtains the right to offer various movies and TV shows.
Netflix doesn’t own the copyright to most of its content. The exception is the original content produced by Netflix itself; that can be offered without restriction because Netflix owns it. But everything else is temporarily licensed to Netflix by the distributors who own the copyrights.
These content licenses have many stipulations to ensure that both sides get a fair deal. The copyright holders usually set an expiration date for the license, limiting the amount of time Netflix can offer the content. They also set geo-restrictions that limit the regions that Netflix can stream the content to. There are many possible reasons for these restrictions. The distributor may only own the copyright in one country and thus be legally unable to license it in other regions. It may also restrict content for strategic reasons, using Netflix to gain exposure in some areas while collecting full profits from others.
A VPN, however, renders these restrictions moot. Since VPN users can appear to come from any country they desire, they can easily access content that would otherwise be unavailable. If too many viewers are able to go against the distributor’s demands, Netflix could lose its licenses and possibly get sued. To protect itself, therefore, Netflix has no choice but to block VPNs.
How Do VPNs Work Around This?
If VPNs are trouble for Netflix, the inverse is doubly true. It’s now common knowledge among travelers that you don’t need to give up streaming while abroad if you use a VPN. Foreign film and TV fans also know that a VPN can unlock international streaming content with ease. Streaming sites make up a generous portion of all VPN traffic, and many users get a VPN specifically for streaming.
Without reliable streaming access, a VPN could lose a good chunk of its userbase. This means that VPN providers need to work double-time to keep up with Netflix’s IP blocks. As Netflix blocks VPN IPs, the provider must retire those IPs and replace them with fresh ones. The problem is that any given IP could remain undetected for anywhere from several months to less than an hour. Extreme diligence is required to keep up with IP address turnover and maintain reliable streaming access.
Unfortunately, for some providers, new IP addresses are in limited supply. There simply may not be enough unblocked IPs to go around. When this happens, users of that VPN will be unable to access Netflix until the IP pool is replenished.
PIA and Streaming
PIA is one of the world’s top VPNs, known for its no-logs policy and affordable prices. But its site barely mentions streaming at all. Is this a case of unadvertised benefits? Or is PIA’s streaming performance simply not up to par?
Can PIA Unblock Netflix?
Once upon a time, PIA placed a much greater emphasis on streaming than it currently does. Page after page on its site boasted of unblocking Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and many other streaming services. PIA was an extremely popular choice for streamers due to its broad unblocking abilities and low cost.
But in the past few years, Netflix has stepped up its game considerably. PIA could no longer keep up with the ever-growing IP blacklist. Thus, it began quietly removing all mentions of Netflix and streaming from its site. It quit promoting itself as a tool for unblocking Netflix. And it stopped putting resources into maintaining a steady supply of new IPs.
All of this sends a clear message: PIA does not officially work with Netflix. That’s not to say that you won’t occasionally get an IP address that hasn’t been blocked. But it’s definitely not a sure bet, and you shouldn’t depend on PIA for reliable Netflix access.
With that said, user reports suggest that some servers are more dependable than others. For US Netflix, the most successful servers seem to be Texas, Seattle, Silicon Valley and Denver. International Netflix sites are far less reliable, though sporadic success is reported for Canadian, Dutch and UK Netflix.
Does PIA Unblock Other Streaming Sites?
Netflix is far from the only streaming site out there. Many of its competitors are stepping up their games as well – both in terms of content and in terms of VPN blocking. How does PIA fare with other streaming sites?
PIA and Hulu
Hulu’s recent offerings have been giving Netflix a run for its money. It’s got everything from ultra-popular network shows like Bob’s Burgers to newly-acquired original reboots like Veronica Mars. But PIA users will find themselves locked out of Hulu more often than not. While occasional success is reported with some US servers, PIA is blocked the majority of the time.
PIA and Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video’s ever-growing catalog will appease everyone from kids (SpongeBob SquarePants, Kung Fu Panda) to adults (Good Omens, Justified). Alas, you’re not likely to successfully view any of it with PIA. As with Netflix, users report that the Texas server sometimes works with Amazon Prime Video. But the rest of the server array is almost always blocked.
PIA and BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer is the ultimate streaming site for fans of David Attenborough, David Tennant and other British TV stars. Unfortunately for international fans, it’s only available to UK residents. And if you were thinking of using PIA to circumvent that restriction, think again. BBC iPlayer is serious about its geo-restrictions and does not work with PIA.
PIA and HBO Go
HBO’s shows are world-renowned for their high quality, be they comedic (Girls), dramatic (the Sopranos) or fantastical (Game of Thrones). And if you want to stream them, you’ll find them all in once place: HBO Go. According to user reports, many of PIA’s servers do, in fact, work with HBO Go. However, there’s a catch: HBO throttles VPN connections, resulting in low quality streams and long buffering times. Additionally, some servers appear to be blocked altogether.
Alternatives to PIA for Streaming
As we’ve seen, PIA isn’t the best choice if you need a VPN with reliable streaming access. So if Netflix is a priority for you, which VPN should you choose? There are many options with excellent track records and dedicated streaming support. Here are a few of our top picks.
Few VPN providers are as committed to streaming access as NordVPN. It can unblock Netflix in the USA, the UK, Japan, Canada, France and more. Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer and many other sites are also unblocked. If you can’t find a server that works with your desired site, NordVPN’s customer support is happy to assist you.
The cherry on top is NordVPN’s SmartPlay feature. It allows you to access US Netflix from almost any NordVPN server around the world, not just ones in the USA. This means higher speeds and better image quality, no matter where on Earth you are.
It may be pricey, but ExpressVPN is worth the money if you want reliable Netflix access on all your devices. And we mean all: even devices that don’t support VPNs can make use of ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer DNS. These specialized DNS servers allow you to unblock Netflix on devices like game consoles, smart TVs and streaming boxes.
What’s more, ExpressVPN’s speeds are lightning-fast and its servers are regularly restocked with fresh IPs. Netflix and other streaming sites are no match for this VPN’s dedication and technological prowess.
Some VPNs are powerful but simply too daunting for beginners to use. CyberGhost, on the other hand, makes online security – and error-free streaming – as easy as can be. Just navigate to the Streaming tab in the app to view the specialized streaming servers. Each is labeled with both a country and the site it’s optimized to unblock. Pick your preferred combo and you’re in!
CyberGhost guarantees that US Netflix will be unblocked. Other sites aren’t guaranteed to work, but they usually do anyway. These sites include French and German Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Crunchyroll, BBC iPlayer and more.
Budget-friendly and low-profile, PrivateVPN is surprisingly adept at streaming. This is particularly true of Netflix: according to its Netflix guide, PrivateVPN can unblock 19 different Netflix sites! These include US Netflix plus countries like Sweden, Japan, Brazil, Australia, South Korea, Italy, Canada and Spain. If you’re a serious streamer who’s run out of content on your local Netflix, PrivateVPN will keep you entertained for a long time.
Summary: Private Internet Access is one of the world’s top VPNs, but it falls behind when it comes to streaming. Netflix, Hulu and other sites don’t generally work with PIA – but there are a few exceptions.