See, no evil in outwitting the TV networks

Danny Gorog -Apr 1, 2012

iStock image File #: 17649067 Laptop and films on white background  (done in 3d). March 2012

iStock image File #: 17649067 Laptop and films on white background (done in 3d). March 2012

Are you a fan of Game of Thrones, The Big Bang Theory or Mad Men?

Then you'll know how frustrating it is to wait for the next episode to be aired in Australia at the discretion of the TV networks.

Meanwhile, in the US, fans can use an internet service called Netflix, which for about $US10 ($9.60) a month provides viewers with an immense library of streaming movies and TV shows.

Netflix means no more waiting for favourite programs to run when it suits the stations. No more having to run to the video store or bemoan the fact such programming delays foster piracy.

You decide when you are ready to watch, pay for it and voila!

Rumours persist that Netflix will eventually come to the international market, including Australia, but other popular US sites such as Hulu probably won't.

To many, a lack of global availability of entertainment content may seem short-sighted on the part of producers.

Apple and its iTunes Store have proved that by offering cheap and easy access to content, many consumers stop using illegal sharing systems and acquire digital content legally.

What won't work here

Unfortunately for consumers, content providers restrict access to particular programs in specific markets so as to control pricing and TV rights negotiations.

For example, if you buy a DVD in the US then bring it home to watch in Australia, there's a good chance it won't work because DVD players in Australia are set to region 4, while discs in the US are encoded as region 1. The same is true of many video games.

Apple - now the largest retailer of digital content, according to its chief executive, Tim Cook - also kowtows to content owners by making certain content available only in specific markets.

With music, the distortion is primarily around pricing but if you compare the TV shows offered in the Australian and US iTunes Stores, you will understand how tightly controlled the content available to buy in Australia is.

What you can do about it

Thankfully, there are ways to work around these protectionist restrictions on the internet.

As an Australian resident, two things prevent you accessing a US-only site such as Netflix: your internet (IP) address (the site can tell your computer is located in Australia) and your Australian credit card. There are two different routes to solve the IP address issue.

The first and more complex solution involves using a virtual private network to mask your location. This uses a US-based service as a middleman to trick US websites into thinking you're actually over there.

Some VPN services support a range of countries, which is handy if you also want to watch Britain's BBC iPlayer.

Unfortunately, configuring a VPN can be challenging and sometimes requires installing extra software, which isn't possible on some devices.

The second and simpler solution is to use a service such as unblock-us.com or unotelly.com to use one of their US-based domain name servers (DNS).

Using a US-based DNS means that when your computer accesses, say, Netflix, the site sees your computer as being in the US and grants it access to content. To configure your computer or home network to a US-based DNS address, the DNS settings in your computer's network preferences need changing. For access to US content on all the computers on your network, configure your router with the US DNS address details.

Paying the bill

Once you solve the challenge of accessing US content through the internet, the next step is to work out how to pay for it.

In some instances, the services you want to access may be available free; others such as Netflix let you use an Australian credit card to sign up for a subscription.

In the case of iTunes, the best content may require a US iTunes account.

In this case, you will first need an iTunes gift card - available online through many sites, including eBay.

Once you have a US iTunes gift card, you'll need to sign up for a new iTunes account using a different email address to your existing Australian account.

You will need to use this other email address each time you want to buy US content.

If the site you want to access requires a US-billed credit card, there's another way around: you may be able to buy, online, a US pre-paid Visa card, which is usually accepted by sites where US credit cards are required.

Netflix netflix.com
Hulu hulu.com
CBS cbs.com
ESPN espn.com

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