Netflix has cracked down on people using proxy servers to get around regional restrictions on content, a move that is likely to affect thousands of Australians and users in other countries and prompt renewed calls for universal access.
The television shows and movies offered by Netflix differ by territory because of licensing restrictions, which some members bypass with proxies, virtual private networks (VPNs) or “unblockers” that make it appear as though they are in a different country.
The company’s vice-president of content delivery architecture, David Fullagar, wrote in a blog post that although the goal was to make all of Netflix’s content globally available, targeting members using proxies was of high priority.
“We are making progress in licensing content across the world … but we have a way to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere,” he wrote.
“We look forward to offering all of our content everywhere to consumers being able to enjoy all of Netflix without using a proxy. That’s the goal we will keep pushing towards.”
About 25% of adult internet users across the world say they have used proxies, with one in 10 having done so to access entertainment not available in their country.
Netflix launched its Australian services in March 2015, but with significantly fewer offerings than in larger territories.
Although new television series and films are added regularly, recent figures from FlixSearch, which lists Netflix content by region, shows its Australian catalogue carries only 2,092 items, compared with 2,991 in the UK, 3,606 in Canada and 5,760 in the US.
The consumer advocacy group Choice called on Australian internet users to share their knowledge about how to circumvent geo-blocks to put pressure on Netflix to make its catalogue universal.
Its research, carried out in November 2014, found that about 340,000 Australian households subscribed to Netflix on the strength of its international offering.
Spokesman Matt Levy said targeting proxies would mean Australian members would miss out on thousands of titles.
“Rather than putting barriers up, it’s time to recognise internet is global. Regional copyright deals are as outdated as video cassettes. Ultimately, Australians should be able to pay for international services directly rather than be locked into sub-standard local versions.”
One Twitter user responded to the Netflix announcement: “For the first time consumers are in power … and business is desperate to maintain their ripoff model.”
Netflix announced its expansion into 130 new countries – including India, Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines and Russia – on 6 January, taking the number of countries it is present in to 190.
It is not available in China – although it continues to explore options for that country – and Crimea, North Korea and Syria, because of US government restrictions on American companies operating there.
A spokesman for Netflix in Australia said it did not share data on the use of proxy servers, but “as we continue to strive towards licensing content on a global scale, [their] use will become redundant”.