As one of the top players in the VPN game, ExpressVPN has a big reputation to uphold. Top speeds, unbreakable security and worldwide server coverage are must-have attributes. But in this day and age, that list also includes reliable streaming site access.
Thanks to Netflix’s war against location spoofing, streaming with a VPN isn’t always possible. ExpressVPN goes above and beyond in its attempts to defeat VPN blocks across the web. That includes the ones enacted by Netflix, Hulu and other streaming sites. How do these efforts translate into practice? The answer: better than you might think.
Netflix and VPNs
Why Doesn’t Netflix Work With VPNs?
It’s a sight that’s bound to elicit groans, sighs and even cries of frustration: the Netflix proxy error. You shouldn’t have to choose between VPN protection and your favorite shows, but all too often, that ends up being the case. Despite the ever-growing number of VPN users, Netflix shows no intentions of letting up on its VPN restrictions. But why?
As you may expect, it all boils down to one thing: money. Netflix doesn’t actually own the rights to much of the content it offers to its subscribers. Rather, it maintains licensing agreements with the actual copyright holders in order to provide the content. Under these agreements, Netflix pays the distributor $X to offer the movie or show for Y amount of time.
But often, it’s not in the distributor’s best interests to let Netflix stream the content worldwide. Perhaps a film is extremely popular in country X but barely on the radar in country Y. In country X, profits from direct distribution could easily outweigh Netflix’s licensing payments. But Netflix’s wide reach could boost exposure in country Y, where profits would otherwise be minimal. In this case, the distributor would likely include a geo-restriction clause in its Netflix license. Netflix would only be allowed to stream the film to country Y so as not to impinge on the potential profits elsewhere.
Other times, it may come down to regional differences in copyright ownership. Movies and TV shows are often distributed by different companies in different regions. Each company would have to arrange its own licensing agreement with Netflix in its respective region. And depending on the region, there may be better local alternatives for a distributor than Netflix.
Whatever the reason, VPNs are bad news for these geo-restriction clauses. If you can change your location at will, that defeats the purpose of the clause. Content distributors want control over their media, and VPNs remove some of that control. And if the distributors can’t get what they want, they won’t grant Netflix any more licenses. Since Netflix depends on third-party content to gain subscribers, it needs to appease the distributors. The easiest way to do so is by blocking VPNs.
How Does Netflix Detect VPNs?
VPNs may secure your personal data very well, but there’s one thing they’re not great at hiding: their own identities. It’s surprisingly easy to tell when internet traffic is coming from a VPN. Hints are often included in traffic metadata – the simple stats and instructions that accompany your actual data. Ports can also be telltale signs, as VPNs often use distinct ports to send and receive data. Netflix likely makes use of tools like deep packet inspection to look for these signs. But perhaps the most blatant giveaway is your IP address.
A VPN hides your real IP address by assigning you a new one from your chosen server. That’s the IP address that’s actually shown to the websites you visit. But VPN servers have finite supplies of IPs. Chances are that the IP you’re assigned has previously (or even concurrently) been assigned to many other users. On popular servers, these users could number in the thousands. Usually, this isn’t a problem. But it is with streaming sites.
Typically, any given IP address would only be associated with a few Netflix accounts, if that. Households usually share a Netflix account, and even if they don’t, there are only so many people on the network. But a VPN IP could be used on tens or even hundreds of Netflix accounts. That sets off red flags on Netflix’s end. It’s rare for an IP to be shared by so many people, let alone so many people with their own Netflix accounts.
Netflix can then look at those accounts and see the IP addresses they’ve used in the past. If there are a bunch of different IPs from all over the place, that’s another red flag. Is it impossible for someone to watch Netflix in Chicago and then again in Germany a few hours later? Maybe not, but it’s extremely unlikely.
So Netflix assumes (often correctly) that these IP addresses are from VPNs. And then it swiftly adds them to the blacklist, cutting them off from streaming content. The next time that IP tries to visit Netflix, all it’ll receive in return is an error message.
How Can VPNs Prevent Being Blocked?
VPNs are at a real disadvantage in this battle. There’s not much a provider can do about multiple users streaming Netflix with the same IP. That’s just the nature of a VPN. Shared IPs boost individual anonymity but can, themselves, be more conspicuous due to the volume of activity. Crafty techniques like smart DNS routing can help, but for the most part, there’s only one method of recourse: getting new IPs.
It’s a temporary fix, as any new IPs will almost certainly be detected and blocked in time. But in the short term, new IP addresses allow VPN users to keep accessing Netflix. And as any business knows, you’ve got to keep the customers happy. So streaming-oriented VPNs regularly replace blacklisted IPs with fresh ones to ensure continual access.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for a provider to get new IP addresses. And eventually, the supply of available, non-blacklisted IP addresses will be exhausted. When that day comes, VPN providers will need to figure out a new approach to evading detection by streaming sites.
ExpressVPN and Streaming
Can ExpressVPN Unblock Netflix?
If Netflix is the king of streaming sites, then ExpressVPN is the king of VPNs. And in this royal battle, ExpressVPN emerges victorious.
ExpressVPN seems to take great pride in its streaming capabilities, and it certainly deserves to. All of the provider’s US servers can unblock US Netflix with ease. You’re not limited to just one or two locations like you are with other providers. You can pick the server that’s closest to you for top speeds without impairing your streaming performance.
That’s not the only version of Netflix that ExpressVPN can unblock, either. Users report that the majority of ExpressVPN’s servers around the world can unblock their respective Netflix catalogs. British TV fans will be enthralled by UK Netflix, while anime lovers will be absorbed in Japanese Netflix. Other unblocked countries include Canada, Australia, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Spain, Germany, France and Singapore.
The ExpressVPN desktop and mobile apps work seamlessly with Netflix. But if you’re using a smart TV, game console or another device that doesn’t support VPNs, fear not! ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer DNS service can unblock Netflix on any device with custom DNS configuration. It’s not a full VPN, so it won’t encrypt your traffic or tunnel your connection. But it will allow you to unblock Netflix no matter what device you’re using.
And in the unlikely event that you do encounter a proxy error anyway, ExpressVPN’s customer support is there to help. Support reps can help you find a server that works with your preferred Netflix catalog.
Does ExpressVPN Unblock Other Streaming Sites?
Netflix has a lot of competition for streaming site supremacy. Alas, these other streaming sites have also encountered the same issues with VPNs and geo-restrictions. Not wanting to lose their licenses, they’ve compiled VPN blacklists of their own. Can ExpressVPN handle these sites as smoothly as it does Netflix?
ExpressVPN and BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer is officially only available to UK residents. That’s a shame, because its content is beloved around the world. But international fans of Doctor Who, Sherlock, BBC Nature and other shows need not worry. ExpressVPN’s UK servers can all unblock BBC iPlayer with ease. Now all the best BBC content, from the highest-quality to the lowest-brow, is available to you no matter where you are.
ExpressVPN and Hulu
Once considered an underdog in the streaming game, Hulu has recently come into its own. On offer are established classics like Seinfeld as well as soon-to-be classics like Rick and Morty. The best part? You don’t have to turn off your VPN to watch them. ExpressVPN’s US servers unblock Hulu beautifully. There are occasional hiccups with more popular servers like New York City and San Francisco. However, these are usually resolvable by switching to a nearby, less popular server.
ExpressVPN and Amazon Prime Video
The biggest shopping site is also gunning to be the biggest streaming site. And with shows like Mr. Robot, Cheers and Veep, Amazon Prime Video is well on its way to achieving that goal. But travelers lose access to much of the catalog when they leave their home country. And if you don’t live in one of the supported countries, you’re completely out of luck.
That is, unless you use ExpressVPN to unblock Amazon Prime Video. The US version of Amazon Prime Video is accessible from any US server. What’s more, the UK catalog is accessible from ExpressVPN’s UK servers as well.
ExpressVPN and HBO Go
There are many ways to watch HBO’s shows on demand. The two most popular are HBO Go and HBO Now. You need an HBO subscription through your TV provider to use HBO Go, while HBO Now is available to all. The caveat: you need to be in the USA, Canada or another supported country to use them.
ExpressVPN can help with that. Its US and Canadian servers can unblock both HBO Go and HBO Now. Other countries should also work as long as they’re supported by HBO. But if you can’t find a working server for your country of choice, ExpressVPN’s customer support can help.
Is ExpressVPN Fast Enough for Netflix?
Streaming consumes a lot of bandwidth, so it’s important that your connection can handle it. The minimum speed that Netflix recommends is 500Kbps, with 1.5Mbps recommended for low quality video. Standard (480p) quality requires 3Mbps, while HD (720p or 1080p) requires at least 5Mbps. Want to get super-detailed 4k video? Make sure your speeds are at least 25Mbps for a smooth experience.
Internet speeds aren’t as much of a concern as they were back in the days of dial-up and DSL. But if you’re using a VPN, they can be. Encrypting and rerouting traffic both take time, so your regular internet speeds may not be attainable.
Thankfully, these slowdowns are minimal with ExpressVPN. Choose a nearby server and your speeds aren’t likely to drop by more than 10%. In fact, if your ISP throttles streaming traffic, your speeds may even increase with ExpressVPN! That’s because with a VPN, your ISP can’t tell which sites you’re visiting. Since it doesn’t know you’re watching Netflix, it can’t throttle your bandwidth accordingly. You may find that with ExpressVPN, streaming is easier and faster than ever before.
Summary: ExpressVPN enables secure and speedy access to Netflix in the USA, the UK and beyond, plus many other streaming sites. Plus, its MediaStreamer DNS enhances streaming on devices that don’t support VPNs.