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Most people say they first tried the practice in order to watch “The Office”
Written By – Stephen Lovely, Managing Editor | Published: December 15th, 2021
NBC’s mega-popular comedy “The Office” was one of the most streamed shows on Netflix of all time. When it left U.S. Netflix at the start of 2021, diehard fans had to find a new platform if they wanted to continue streaming their favorite show on demand.
Some may have signed up for NBC’s Peacock, but other tech-savvy viewers unwilling to pay for yet another streaming subscription might have found a loophole using their virtual private networks (VPNs). Since “The Office” is now available on the United Kingdom’s Netflix platform, some Americans used VPNs to spoof their location and access the British catalog of Netflix content.
We asked over 6,000 people across five countries about their streaming habits, and it turns out that “The Office” was the top show people were searching for the first time they used a VPN to access international Netflix content. While American-produced TV series were among the most popular titles, anime was the most mentioned genre for those using VPNs to access location-restricted content.
Although the practice violates some streaming platforms' terms of service, we found that 51 percent of VPN users have tried to access out-of-market programming through their VPNs. Let’s take a deeper look at who’s using their VPNs to connect to foreign content and how often they’re successfully streaming it.
Virtual private networks have been widely adopted, with over 40 percent of Americans now logging on with VPNs. These connections improve privacy and security by masking device locations, a process that can also circumvent regional restrictions on content.
Across Canada, Ireland, Australia, United States, and the United Kingdom, 84 percent of people are familiar with this practice, though the number is lower in the United States.
More than half of VPN users in the countries above have already tried to unlock overseas entertainment via VPN, with attempts highest in Ireland and Canada. Americans were least likely to be aware of this practice and least likely to have tried it.
Yet not everyone who tried to watch restricted content was successful – more than one in three people who tried actually failed to access international programs. Of those whose VPNs failed to connect, four out of five were using a free service.
Additionally, viewers who attempted to access global material skewed notably younger; over age 35, fewer than one in three had tried international streaming. Over half of those under 35 had attempted the practice.
When we asked TV tourists in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, what they wanted to watch, the overwhelming majority were looking for Netflix programs not available in their home country.
The top five streaming platforms targeted by each nation were consistent, though percentages varied slightly among them. Netflix emerged as the clear winner among border-hopping VPN streamers, which may be because it has more global subscribers than any other platform on our list. More than 214 million people worldwide tune into Netflix, and the platform has an extensive content library. Amazon Prime came in a distant second, and it had the second largest-subscriber base: an estimated 175 million Amazon Prime users stream video.
However, Disney Plus and Crunchyroll also boast large user bases, but fewer people are accessing location-restricted content on the platforms via VPN. This may be because the content on these platforms is more niche than services such as Hulu or Netflix. Disney Plus content is exclusively owned by the Walt Disney Company, and Crunchyroll hosts an extensive anime collection.
Netflix calls itself a “global TV network” but still varies its content by market, compelling curious subscribers with VPN logins to explore what they’ve been missing. Yet the tastes of these tech travelers weren’t too exotic, as many viewers were streaming content of neighboring nations. Japan was a notable exception, with 15 percent of American streamers and 9 percent of Canadian streamers using VPNs to access Japanese programming.
The top target locations were similar when broken out by user country, with a few local differences. Keep in mind that travelers sometimes use VPNs to stream domestic content while abroad.
More than half of those who streamed Netflix with a VPN connection were looking for a specific show or genre, and 11 percent were simply curious about content or functionality. Another 37 percent of those who’ve streamed Netflix via VPN wanted to browse and see what was available in other markets.
Accessing content in foreign markets requires a VPN service with servers all over the world that can provide sufficient speeds to maintain video feeds. Before trying to stream international entertainment, be sure to consult your streaming service’s terms of service and research the best VPN providers.
What lies ahead for these visual voyagers?
Widespread awareness of VPN capabilities coupled with the youth of most spoofers might suggest that “stream smuggling” will rise in the future, but service restrictions and growing global catalogs have made the practice more limited and unnecessary.
Netflix previously announced a crackdown on overseas logins and currently restricts detected VPN users from accessing locally licensed material. The company has also expanded and unified its worldwide offerings, so anyone can enjoy international sensations like “Lupin” (France) and “Squid Game” (South Korea) without reliance on technological trickery. We found that nearly a quarter of viewers who previously watched Netflix via VPN have since abandoned the practice.
As long as there are borders, there will be content and causes that motivate users to avoid geographic restrictions. VPN access helps cure homesickness, access remote news, watch distant sporting events, and avoid local censorship. Especially when COVID has limited travel, it's nice to have a window on the world – just make sure your VPN provider can handle it.
Cordcutting.com conducted an online survey of 6,131 people residing in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Respondents who had previously tried to use a VPN to access Netflix were invited to a follow-up study on their streaming habits, where they answered more specific questions regarding the programming they sought to access. In total, 996 people participated in the follow up study. There were 254 Australian, 199 Canadian, 145 Irish, 198 British, and 200 American residents in the follow up survey, conducted in November 2021.