Netflix hammers cross-border watchers and there may be no way out
Some unblocking companies that help customers hop Netflix borders are in retreat
Netflix may be emerging victor in its declared war on virtual border hoppers.
"I'd say that they have won," concludes Toronto tech analyst Patrick O'Rourke.
He's making the call because numerous unblocking companies that once declared they would never surrender, now appear to be retreating in defeat.
"It seems like most of these companies have thrown in the towel and given up," says O'Rourke, a writer for the tech site MobileSyrup.
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Unblocking companies provide Netflix customers with the technology needed to watch shows restricted to other countries.
In mid-January, the global streaming service began cracking down on customers who use these services to sneak across borders. The move was Netflix's attempt to honour its country-exclusive licensing agreements with Hollywood studios.
Many unblocking companies remained defiant, declaring they would find workarounds for customers now blocked from Netflix. But that defiance is waning.
UFlix admits defeat
Australian-based company, uFlix has officially waved the white flag. In its most recent blog, the unblocking service informs customers it will no longer help them hop Netflix's borders.
"Unfortunately every time we set up a new network or find a workaround, it is getting blocked within hours," it said in the blog post.
That's a much different tune compared to March when uFlix announced, "No retreat, no surrender."
"Netflix has taken extremely aggressive measures to prevent people from bypassing their region," UFlix stated in a blog post March 6. "We can either call it quits or we can keep fighting. We have decided that we have not even broken into a sweat yet."
The company said it was working on special technology that would allow customers "to bypass the stupid georestrictions for Netflix."
UFlix continued to post workaround solutions when past ones failed. Then, on August 26, the company finally called it quits, claiming the efforts were a drain on its money and time.
Netflix has yet to explain how it has successfully managed to keep up its blocks on border hoppers.
Unblock-Us goes silent
Other popular unblocking companies also appear to have given up the fight, albeit more quietly. O'Rourke points to Barbados-based Unblock-Us.
O'Rourke himself previously used Unblock-Us to watch Netflix shows in other countries. His favourites included Nurse Jackie, a comedy series offered to U.S. Netflix customers but technically not available to Canadian subscribers.
Soon after Netflix announced the crackdown, O'Rourke says his global access started sputtering. "Little notifications would pop up every once in a while when I was watching Netflix saying you're in the incorrect region."
He says Unblock-Us sent him workaround instructions but eventually these no longer worked, and by the summer he was completely shut out of Netflix.
O'Rourke says Unblock-Us never explained to him what was going on. He presumes that the company simply gave up.
He points out that the company's website used to boldly advertise that its customers could access Netflix in different countries.
Now, says O'Rourke, "They've totally flipped the script. Netflix is nowhere on their site."
Unblock-Us also appears to have completely wiped all Netflix-related posts from its Facebook page, which was riddled with customer complaints about the service for border hoppers.
Angry comments still remain on Twitter, however. "I've paid an annual subscription before finding out that Netflix blocked you. Can you please refund me?" a customer tweeted to the company this month.
Unblock-Us did not reply to CBC News' request for comment.
<a href="https://twitter.com/Unblock_Us">@Unblock_Us</a> Hi - I've paid an annual subscription before finding out that Netflix blocked you. Can you please refund me?—@juanduplessis
Will unblock us make a statement to say it will not work with Netflix??? Or will you fix??? <a href="https://t.co/NdrlS6xYF5">https://t.co/NdrlS6xYF5</a>—@peteholt36
UnoTelly gives in?
Another unblocking company that appears to have given up is Toronto-based UnoTelly.
In mid-January, when CBC News asked UnoTelly its reaction to the Netflix crackdown, the company said it was confident nothing would change.
But now, gone is the advertising on UnoTelly's website that claims clients can hop virtual borders. Instead, the unblocker informs people that that border hopping "is not permitted."
UnoTelly's Facebook page is rife with posts from customers claiming they can no longer access Netflix. The company appears to have stopped responding to these.
So some customers are declaring defeat.
"I think they've given up and so should we!" posted a customer in July.
UnoTelly did not reply to CBC News' request for comment.
For the companies that appear to have given in, says O'Rourke, "it probably wasn't profitable for them to continue changing their settings and offering new [solutions]."
It's not over?
Is the battle for TV without borders really over? Not according to Turkish unblocking site, Getflix. It claims its customers can still access Netflix in other countries.
But a quick search on social media shows that its customers have also complained about access.
O'Rourke says he knows people still able to hop Netflix's borders. But he claims they do it by switching unblocking companies every time their access falters.
"They'll subscribe to one for a month and it'll get shut down and then they'll move to another one and another one and another one," he says.
The hassle makes it not worthwhile for the average user, says O'Rourke. And that leads him to conclude that the business of unblocking Netflix is "kind of dead."
Getflix, however, claims it hasn't given up. It's "working on a new solution that will be impossible [for] Netflix to block. But it takes time to deploy," the company told CBC News in an email.
Perhaps it will be triumphant. But based on other unblocking services' experiences, perhaps it's time to give in.
As one unhappy UnoTelly customer recently posted on Facebook, "People, stop wasting your time — it's not working — accept that Netflix won."
Netflix did not reply to CBC News' requests for comment. In the past, the streaming service has said its ultimate goal is to make its content available on a global scale.