Hulu is cracking down on VPN access.
Streaming TV giant Hulu has stepped up efforts to block non-US viewers. Are international expansion plans afoot?
Geo-blocking has always been a cat and mouse game as US streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix strive to keep out foreigners. Hulu has upped the stakes again, recently cracking down on visitors using a Virtual Private Network to mask their location and trick the Hulu servers into thinking they're visiting from within the United States. There are still plenty of ways to sneak into Hulu, but it does pose the question of whether Hulu is preparing to launch in other countries.
Hulu's latest geo-blocking effort doesn't block everyone using a VPN. It merely blocks devices using IP addresses associated with popular VPN services that are commonly used for geo-dodging, according to TorrentFreak. If you're using a business-grade VPN provider, or a lesser-known consumer-grade service, then you might not be affected.
If you are affected, rather than the standard geo-blocking message, you'll see:
"Based on your IP address, we noticed you are trying to access Hulu through an anonymous proxy tool. Hulu is not currently available outside the U.S. If you're in the U.S., you'll need to disable your anonymiser to access videos on Hulu."
All is not lost even if you are relying on a high-profile VPN service to access Hulu. Some VPN providers offer multiple servers within the US and make it easy to switch between them. If you're blocked when using a major VPN server in New York or Los Angeles, try a server in a smaller US city. Your mileage may vary, but this has worked in the past when streaming services have cracked down on VPNs.
Connections speeds might not be as fast in the smaller cities, which can hamper streaming video, but if you keep trying you've got a good chance of finding a server which has been configured to bypass Hulu's latest geo-blocking efforts. A Google search will usually turn up people discussing the latest workarounds in the forums.
Hulu hasn't declared all out war on geo-dodgers at this point. You can still access the site via the Hola Unblocker and Media Hint browser plug-ins. You should also still have luck with DNS-based workarounds such as Unblock US and UnoTelly.
Where there's a will there's a way, and foreigners will always find new tricks for sneaking into Hulu, so why has the streaming service decided to ramp up its geo-blocking efforts now? Is it simply an effort to appease rights holders? There's growing pressure on Netflix to keep out Australians to protect local rights holders such as Foxtel and Quickflix. Hulu would naturally experience similar pressure.
Or is Hulu ramping up its defences because it's preparing to expand into foreign markets? If Hulu and Netflix do have plans for Australia you can be sure they'll work harder to keep us out of their US sites, because the US services are still likely to offer a better deal than an official Australian service. In Australia, Hulu and Netflix would have to abide by local rights agreements with the likes of Foxtel. Aussies would end up paying more than US users but getting less in return. To be honest, we're better off just sneaking into the US sites.
While Netflix seemingly has a close eye on Australia, it's unlikely that Hulu is looking to take the plunge at this point. To date Hulu's international expansion attempts haven't fared as well as Netflix's efforts.
Earlier this year Hulu bailed on its three year-old Japanese service, selling it to Nippon TV although retaining the Hulu branding. At the time, Hulu chief executive Mike Hopkins said:
"I'm confident that the Hulu business in Japan is in very good hands, and Nippon TV will take the service to new heights, with the added benefit of allowing us to focus on our growing business here in the US."
Hulu's senior vice president of international operations left last year and Hulu was even up for sale for a few months until the owners – Walt Disney, Comcast and 21st Century Fox – decided to sink more money into it. Right now Hulu seems focused on striking deals with US cable TV networks to help stave off the "cable cutting" trend of people abandoning pay TV in favour of the internet. Like HBO Go, there's talk of restricting HuluPlus to people with a home cable TV subscription.
Hulu's VPN crackdown may be an effort to appease its US masters, perhaps to improve targeted advertising. But at this stage international expansion plans seem to be on the backburner and it's unlikely that Hulu is planning a big push in the near future.
Do you sneak into US-only streaming video services? Which would you like to see come to Australia?
Read more posts from Adam Turner's Gadgets on the Go blog.