Open the door to a world of video-streaming and entertainment through Private Internet Access.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) allow you to push your network traffic through an encrypted tunnel, making it easy to hide your identity, and to browse the Internet securely when using public access points.
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Traditionally, they were one of the tricks of the trade for business travelers — VPNs were used primarily for weary, far-flung employees to to access their company’s internal network from public WiFi networks provided hotels and cafes. Other more privacy-concerned organizations used VPNs as a way for remote workers to send privileged communications without the risk of interception.
But more recently, the general public has started to use anonymous VPN services – such as those provided by Private Internet Access — in other, more interesting roles. For example, many use them in order to mitigate against ISP-level censorship, as is common in countries like China, the UAE and yes, even the United Kingdom. Others use VPNs as a tool to defend themselves against government surveillance of the Internet.
As a tool, VPNs are useful and versatile. Indeed, we’re a big fan of them at MakeUseOf and have listed some of the unusual potential applications for VPNs in the past. But did you also know that VPNs can help you catch up on the latest TV shows?
Yes, it’s true. There is a phenomenal amount of streaming websites which allow you to watch the latest shows, but are only available in certain locales. You might be familiar with some of the more prominent ones, such as Hulu, Netflix, and the BBC’s iPlayer.
These sites only allow people living in certain countries to access them. It seems unfair, doesn’t it? Just because you live in France or Germany, doesn’t mean that you should have to go without the latest episode of Family Guy. Similarly, just because you live in the US doesn’t mean that you should have to wait to watch the latest episode of Doctor Who.
With a VPN (we recommend Private Internet Access), you can bypass geographical restrictions by visiting those sites through local VPN endpoints — in other words, the websites will think you’re within the country and allow you access. While you might have already been aware of this geo-restriction workaround, you may not realize the vast quantity of amazing programming you can watch by accessing certain streaming video websites with a VPN.
This guide aims to show you what’s on offer, and to tell you the VPN endpoint you’ll need to use to access it. We’re going to take a trip across the world. From the US, to the UK, and finally Australia. Let’s see what we can watch.
Hulu was founded in March 2007 with the vision that people should be able to watch the TV shows they want, legitimately, having to resort to illegal downloading. The principle was simple: you can watch a variety of television shows, clips and movies supported by advertisements. To access certain premium products from Hulu, you might have to pay a flat monthly fee.
Unsurprisingly, Hulu has been nothing short of a huge success. According to Internet ranking service Alexa, Hulu is one of the top 500 visited websites worldwide, and is visited by almost 25 million people each month. It has been a pioneer in the online streaming space.
But, there’s a pretty significant downside. Hulu is only available to residents of the United States and its associated territories, and Japan. That’s bad news for everyone else.
Around 2010, there were rumblings the video-on-demand titan would dip its toe into the European market, and expand into the UK and Ireland. Consumers on this side of the pond waited with baited breath. But unfortunately, due to the complex nature of licensing digital content for streaming, the plans were cancelled.
Which is a shame, because there are some phenomenal television on Hulu. Shows like South Park.
Earlier this year, Hulu signed a three-year deal to exclusively stream the hugely popular and profane animated series by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The entire catalog of 17 seasons is currently available to stream, in full length and uncensored.
Truth be told, if you love comedy, Hulu has you covered. It has everything you could possibly hope to watch. Their lineup ranges from the bitingly funny Colbert Show, to Scrubs, to the late-night institution that is Saturday Night Live.
If comedy isn’t your thing, Hulu also has no shortage of dramas, thrillers and action shows. Shows like the Vampire Diaries, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Nashville.
And much like Amazon and Netflix, Hulu has its own original programming — shows you won’t find anywhere else, from the short-lived but critically acclaimed The Confession starring Keifer Sutherland and John Hurt, to the comedy stylings of Kevin Smith’s The Spoilers, which is their flagship film review show. Think Roger Ebert, but with a severe case of potty mouth.
If you’re not in the US, you can watch these shows on Hulu with a VPN from Private Internet Access. Just set your endpoint to an American one, and you’re golden.
When Netflix first opened its subscription service in 1999, it was revolutionary. For the first time ever, consumers could rent movies online instead of having to drive down to Blockbuster and fork over cash for a scratched, beaten-up VHS tape. You’d just have to sign up to Netflix, request a specific film, and within a few days, a DVD was sent to you in the post.
A few things have happened since 1999.
Firstly, DVDs are slowly (but surely) going the way of the cassette tape. Now, everyone’s all about the streaming video. The driving force behind that has been the rise of fast and unmetered household broadband connections. This significant change in the home Internet market has made it possible for people to watch high definition content from their homes, with no physical media involved, and has resulted in the astronomical growth of Netflix.
Almost fifty million people own subscriptions to Netflix, which is available in the United States, Canada, South America and huge swathes of Europe. The march of Netflix shows no signs of stopping, either. Starting in the middle of 2015, it will make its debut appearance in New Zealand and Australia.
So, given that it’s nearly ubiquitous, why would you use a VPN service to watch Netflix?
Well, simply put — regional programming. The programming available in the UK is vastly different in quantity (and quality) than in, say, the United States, or Canada. If you want to catch up on previous seasons of Community, your best bet is Canadian Netflix. If you’re fan of The Thick Of It, or Top Gear, your best bet is British Netflix.
Fortunately, Netflix allows travelers to use their subscriptions in other countries. If you’re a European subscriber and you’re on vacation in the United States, Netflix will treat you like one of their American customers and allow you to enjoy the local offering.
With that said, wherever you are, you’ll be able to catch up on their award-winning original programming. Shows like Orange Is The New Black, which has earned its share of acclaim for dramatization of Piper Kerman’s true story of what happens when an affluent Bostonian’s criminal past catches up with her.
Netflix’s original content also extends into documentaries, such as The Square, which covered the Tahrir Square uprisings in Egypt, and was the first Internet-only documentary to earn an Oscar.
And I can’t not mention Lilyhammer, which features E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt as a New York gangster turned informant, who has found himself adjusting to live in the vastly different world of rural Norway.
Better still, Netflix cannot tell the difference between someone genuinely on vacation and someone connecting over a VPN service. So, what’s on offer?
Well, quite a lot. It’s hard not to overstate the vast differences between regional libraries. At the time of writing, Netflix US had just short of 9,000 movies and shows available to stream. British consumers have to make do with around 3,500 movies.
Your mileage will vary. I’ve found shows exclusively on Netflix Canada or Netflix Mexico. Similarly, some shows are only available in the UK or America. Your best bet is to switch between VPN endpoints.
If you don’t live in United States, you might not be familiar with CBS. But I’m fairly sure you’re familiar some of their work, and the shows they own the licenses to. CBS owns the rights to some of the biggest blockbusters you could care to name. I’m talking about massively successful, international successes.
Successes like Star Trek. Some years ago, CBS acquired Paramount Pictures. With it, they received the rights to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek franchise. This is a franchise which is stretched for over fifty years and boasts some of the most dedicated fandom of all science fiction. It started with Canadian crooner William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and then went onto have successful reboots in the 90s with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek DS9 and Star Trek Voyager. We won’t mention Enterprise.
More recently, the American broadcasting titan has had successes with the likes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; the latest reboot of the Sherlock Holmes franchise, Elementary, starring Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller; and Two and a Half Men.
But the jewel in CBS’s crown is The Big Bang Theory. Although incredibly divisive, this is one of most watched shows on primetime television. Each episode draws in a mammoth 20 million viewers, and is the number one show in every Nielsen age category, from 2 to 11, to adults 55 and older.
And unsurprisingly, CBS wants a piece of the lucrative web streaming market. So it should come as no surprise they’ve released their own ersatz iPlayer. And you know what? It’s pretty good.
A surprisingly large swath of their catalog is available. Like the BBC’s iPlayer (below), some shows only include recent episodes which aired in the past few weeks. Don’t expect to watch the full back-catalog of Two Broke Girls, The Mentalist, or The Big Bang Theory.
Other shows are different though.
As previously mentioned, the entire Star Trek catalog is available to watch on the CBS player. Every episode, in its entirety. Ditto with Everybody Loves Raymond, Jericho, and Canadian cop drama, Flashpoint. Video quality isn’t too bad. It tends to hover around the 480p mark.
With that said, there’s a catch. From all these shows (in CBC parlance, ‘classics’), only a small selection of episodes are free. If you want the whole thing, you’ll have to become a member of CBS All Access, which is their premium (and paid) streaming package.
And if you’re used to advert-free BBC iPlayer and Netflix, you won’t be too happy to hear that the free episodes come jam-packed with advertising. Expect a 40-minute TV episode to feature at least four advertisement breaks, with each lasting minutes.
If you’re desperate for your Star Trek fix and you don’t fancy opening your wallet, you can circumvent this by watching them on startrek.com. Predictably, this is geo-restricted to customers in the United States, however. To watch it, you’ll need to fire up a US-located VPN, as you will with CBS Online, for that matter.
Founded in 1922, the British Broadcasting Corporation is a media institution of magnificent proportions. With a stated aim of ‘to educate, inform, and entertain’, the BBC has produced some of the most enlightening radio and television programming the world has ever known.
It started life as a smattering of radio stations in the late twenties, before going on to pioneer broadcast television in the late thirties. This was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, only to resume in 1946. Since then, it has carved itself out a niche in the British television landscape as a fiercely independent producer of high-brow programming.
And although the BBC is one of the oldest broadcasters in the world, they’ve still managed to modernize. In the mid 70s, they pioneered a system named CEEFAX, which was almost the TV analog of RSS feeds. It allowed users to passively receive up-to-date news through their television sets, transmitted over the airwaves.
And two decades later, BBC launched their digital services. Those with the right kind of TV and receiver could take advantage of crisper, cleaner video and audio.
So, given this track record of innovation, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the BBC has managed to create an incredible streaming product that allows viewers to watch their favorite BBC shows, all from their web browser, Internet TV box, tablet, games console, or smartphone.
Meet iPlayer. It’s available on a startling array of devices, and allows you to catch up on videos aired in the past 30 days. It also allows you to watch television shows as it’s being broadcast, although if you’re a UK resident doing this without a TV license, you might be breaking the law. So, what’s on?
Well, if you’re a parent, you’ll certainly get a kick out of Ceebeebies. This is the section of the iPlayer site aimed at toddlers, babies and young children. This boasts a wealth of programming that should be sufficient to keep a child occupied on a rainy afternoon, including the charming Rastamouse and the educational and slightly moralistic Justin’s House.
And for slightly older children, there’s CBBC. This has locally sourced programming, like Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories, as well as American imports, like PBS’s Arthur. For technologically-inclined youngsters, there’s also Technobabble, which gently introduces the viewer how technology impacts the world around them.
We’ve not even mentioned the rest of the BBC’s offerings, yet. Obviously, there’s the likes of Doctor Who, which has captured the attention of fans both young and old for the past fifty years. Petrolheads will enjoy the coarse stylings of the Top Gear crew, whilst fans of drama will enjoy the variety of serials produced by the BBC on a regular basis.
Shows watched on iPlayer aren’t interrupted with adverts, since it is funded by UK license fee payments.
As you might expect though, you’re only going to get the BBC iPlayer in the UK. If you’re outside, you’re going to have to use a VPN service like Private Internet Access. Set your endpoint to the one with the Union Jack.
Channel 4: 4oD
Channel 4 is one of the UK’s four main terrestrial broadcasters, and has an interesting place in British broadcasting history.
It started life in 1982 as an alternative to the duopoly that existed at the time between the BBC and rival broadcaster ITV. And in the next twenty years, Channel 4 carved itself an important place in the UK media landscape. This is largely the result of its fiercely brave documentary programming, as well its tendency (for better, or for worse) to produce shows that pioneer new formats. This is doubly true when it comes to reality television, given Channel 4 was one of the first stations to broadcast Big Brother, which has since enjoyed success in the USA and India.
And not entirely unsurprisingly, Channel 4 programs can be streamed online. Anyone with a smartphone, tablet, computer or smart TV may view their programming through Channel 4’s 4oD player.
But what’s on offer?
Well, one of the biggest strengths of 4oD is its extensive back-catalogue. Unlike the BBC, Channel 4 allows you to stream a huge variety of previously-aired shows.
Shows like Skins. When first broadcast in 2007, it shocked many viewers with its controversial and visceral look into what life is like for teenagers growing up in modern, inner-city England. All seven seasons of Skins are available to stream online.
Channel 4 also produce some phenomenal drama shows. Shows like the darkly-funny Babylon, by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, and Peep Show, featuring Mitchell and Webb.
There’s also no shortage of American imports, including The Big Bang Theory.
Their factual broadcasting is something to write home about, too. Their documentary repertoire is too vast to mention, although their standout series is Dispatches, which has tackled everything from social injustice, to poverty in modern day Britain, to regulation of the banking system. Their filmmaking is fierce, and fearless.
Channel 4 also has a decent amount of sports broadcasting. Although they lack premiership soccer and top-tier rugby, they offer other, more niche sports like professional poker, to American football, to cycling. If you have unusual taste in sports, Channel 4 has you covered.
But unlike the BBC’s content, 4oD’s broadcasting are supported by advertising. Although they’re technically publicly funded, they’re very much a commercial entity who fund their works through commercial means. This means advertisements.
But if you don’t fancy watching 4oD through their own website, they also serve their content through YouTube. Although, it’s worth noting that like the main 4oD website, it is only available to viewers based in the United Kingdom.
So, how do you get the best of UK public broadcasting? Through a VPN, of course. Just set your endpoint to the United Kingdom.
The UK has the BBC. Canada has the CBC. So, it makes sense that Australia has the ABC.
Founded in 1932, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is the antipodean equivalent of the BBC, having spent the majority of its life producing high-brow educational and cultural programming. For the first 40 years of its life, it was a radio-only organization, but later, it inevitably joined the television revolution.
Since then, the ABC closely followed the path its British counterpart has taken. It too has launched digital TV stations, leaving the fuzzy analogue world behind, and it too has launched an Internet streaming site.
It’s called iView, and if you want to enjoy the best of the Australian television world, you need to check it out.
But what’s on offer? Admittedly, the ABC doesn’t quite have the blockbuster successes of the BBC. Many of their shows isn’t internationally known, which is a shame. Otherwise, their programming lineup is excellent, particularly their comedy franchises.
Perhaps the most widely known is The Chaser. This six-piece comedy group has had a number of successful runs, including the internationally known Chaser’s War On Everything which was notorious for courting controversy and tabloid outrage. After a brief hiatus, their latest show is The Chaser’s Media Circus, which is currently airing on broadcast television, and can be watched on iView.
And if you remember Summer Heights High, you’ll probably remember Jonah, the slightly recidivist playground bully with a tendency to interrupt his classes with amusing tirades of chain-profanity. He has his own show with Jonah from Tonga, and that’s also available on iView.
There are even some pretty incredible science programming. One standout example is Catalyst. If you’re familiar with Bill Nye The Science Guy or Bang Goes The Theory, this show will feel pretty familiar.
Given the ABC’s close relationship with their British counterpart, it’s hardly surprising there’s also a wealth of British programming. At the time of writing, they’re airing a documentary featuring the life story of Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, featuring former Python Eric Idle, in addition to David Attenborough’s Kingdom Of Plants series and Death In Paradise.
Given Australia’s proud sporting history, it makes sense iView has a lot to offer in this respect. Fans of national, regional and international sport are covered, and there’s everything from basketball to Aussie-rules football.
Like the BBC iPlayer, ABC iView doesn’t run advertising on their online video. It’s always good to know that whatever you watch won’t be interrupted with an advert for dishwasher soap or toothpaste.
As you might expect, watching the best of Aussie TV is easy. Just set your VPN endpoint to Australia, and you’re golden. Mate.
Around The World With A VPN
There’s some great programming here. And we’ve travelled across the Anglophone world, from America to the United Kingdom, to Australia. There’s a lot on offer, and whether you’re a parent looking for some family-friendly viewing for your children, or if you’re just looking for some visceral, cutting-edge comedy, we’re confident there’s a site out there with the right content for you.
But far too often, getting that content isn’t possible without circumventing some geo-restrictions.
We’re able to do that by using a VPN service, and there are no shortage of VPN providers. Indeed, we’ve written about them in the past, and we’re big fans of Private Internet Access. Why?
A few reasons, actually. We love their strong, industry-standard encryption, which prevents governments and ISPs from intercepting our traffic. We love how many endpoints they have, which stretch from America to Romania, to Israel, to Australia, and everywhere in between. We love their hands-off approach to customer privacy, with no logs retained. We love how affordable they are, with a subscription costing only $39.95 per year, which works out to about $3.33 per month. We even love how you can pay with Bitcoin, as well as most major credit cards and Paypal.
You can find out more at their official website.
Are there any other video streaming sites you recommend? Found any clever ways to get around geo-restrictions?