Have you noticed the increasing number of websites that are becoming inaccessible? Once upon a time you could click on pretty much any YouTube video but nowadays so many are country restricted i.e. you can only watch from specific countries. I was trying to watch a movie clip the other day and I got this message. It was a YouTube video from Channel 4 the British TV channel. Which is odd really as this happened from the UK and I could access all of the actual Channel 4 site and the thousands of programmes on it (including where the clip was from).
I see it more and more, sometimes with more information but very rarely. The reason is normally due to licensing issues or restrictions, the technology used to block you is called Geotargeting. The restrictions are based on your IP address – many web sites now look up your location from this. Sometimes it’s for good things perhaps to customise your experience of their site. All the search engines for example will customize your results to your actual location. So if you just search for ‘plumber’ you’ll get results of local plumbers not from the other side of the world.
The problem is that there seem to be far, far more restrictions than there are benefits to this technology. I watch a lot of shows on Channel 4 and love this one in particular – Escape to the Chateau which is broadcast on Channel 4 live and through their website for free. However as soon as you step outside the United Kingdom our old friend geo-targeting will block access to not only Channel 4 but all the other UK TV sites too.
For example try and watch something on Hulu when not in the USA and you’ll get blocked, watch the BBC Iplayer outside the UK and the same thing happens. More and more sites are doing this – literally thousands of different websites will only allow you to watch certain things on their sites depending on your location. Sometimes the lookup gets things wrong, this is because the database which lists all the IP addresses and their locations doesn’t always get updated. I’ve often managed to watch UK shows from a French hotel because my IP address is incorrectly listed as British. However this is all a bit haphazard and you certainly can’t rely on this happening.
To ensure you can watch what you like you need to start using VPNs or proxies to obscure your location. These middle man servers present their own IP address to the web servers when you connect. Therefore if you select an elite proxy or VPN in the appropriate country you should be fine to access the sites.
The service I use has lots of servers in different countries in order to make this more accessible. For example the above site is watchable from Switzerland despite being blocked in the UK. Connect via a Swiss server and you can watch the above video with out a problem. If you want to watch the BBC or Channel 4 then you need a UK server, for Hulu or NBC then select a US one and so on.
There can be some restrictions and issues with using this technology primarily because the media sites try and block their use. Some sites are better than others at achieving this, the BBC was quite relaxed until recently when it started blocking a lot of VPNs. There are plenty that work though and you should always check before investing in a long term subscription to see if it works properly with the stations you need.
When you get the right VPN though, you’ll wonder how you lived without them. They open up literally thousands of great sites from all over the world. Most of the best VPNs come with subscriptions that cover lots of countries so don’t restrict your viewing. I recently used a VPN to watch the Test Match cricket on Indian TV then switched to watch Match of the Day on BBC later all from a US based computer.
Sometimes when I look at my kids sitting for hours playing some online computer game, I start to think they really don’t appreciate the amazing resource they have at their disposal. In the mid 90’s I started to teach internet computer classes in the evenings and the adults were truly amazed at what they saw. Sure it was slow but we could look at web pages hosted thousands of miles away, we could talk to people on the other side of the planet using our keyboard and collaborate with anyone – anywhere. It was amazing what that little box – the 14.4k modem could transform your computer into – a box that could take you around the world.
It all seems fairly common place now and perhaps we’ve slightly lost sight of some of the amazing possibilities. How many of us have wasted hours just watching TV online or playing Candy Crush instead of using this resource for something better.
Of course some people actively use the internet every day for personal development. Universities and educators operate on a global level now, information can be transferred with amazing speed not just via periodicals slowly published by professional bodies. In fact it is perfectly possible for the lay person to get access to pretty much the same level of information as a graduate at a top university preparing their PHD.
What I try and do with younger children is to slowly introduce more interesting web sites and how they can incorporate them into their learning. Take for instance language skills – if you are learning a foreign language why not try and watch your favorite show in that language once in a while. It works amazingly well especially if you pick an episode you are familiar with. My eldest child watches episodes of the Simpsons on the French media site called M6 Replay for example.
The video is also accessible directly on YouTube and should be available in all locations. It should also be mentioned that there is a great education section on the BBC websites called Bitesize which covers all levels of children’s education and much of it linked directly to the UK school curriculum. Especially useful if you’re taking holidays or home schooling children.
The internet is full of such examples and possibilities, often for free to develop your skills in any area you can think of, it is a truly a wonderful resource for the children of today if we use it wisely.
If you’re looking to learn a new language then the internet is an unrivalled resource. You can access lots of online information and lesson without having to spend a penny on expensive courses and tutors. Obviously interaction with a native speaker is essential to developing your skills further but there’s no doubt the internet can get you a long way on a study of language. If you’ve got some money to invest, there are actually lots of great tutors who teach languages online. This market was already growing but the pandemic of 2020/21 has increased it by many times. People have realised that tutoring online is not only quite straight forward it’s also very economical. Costs of travel are eliminated and it’s very flexible for both tutor and student.
One of my favorite resources is available on one of the best sites on the world wide web the BBC Website. There’s nothing quite like it for sheer breadth of content and there’s lots of language lessons available for free too. This is the languages page where you can access the online lessons for a host of different language from French to Chinese – http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/. For younger students the Bitesize range has a selection of basic language skills – these can also be used for people to new to the English language to develop their knowledge.
If you are learning a new language there’s also a host of opportunity for practice to be found on the many media sites on the web. When I was learning French I found watching my favorite shows on the M6 Replay media channel helped a lot. Listening to dubbed French when watching the Simpsons really helps your language knowledge and makes it fun to learn. Unfortunately many of these web sites are restricted by location – i.e. you have to be in France to watch M6 Replay, USA to watch Hulu etc. However it is possible to bypass the geolocation blocks by using a proxy or VPN server.
This page shows the technique – BBC iPlayer on my iPad, but it’s relevant for PCs, Laptops and any country in the world.
If you prefer video demonstrations then you might prefer this-
You can also watch it directly on YouTube if you prefer but the principle is just the same. Hide your location by routing your connection through a proxy or VPN server. For geo-targeting blocks then just ensure that the server is in the right country, for for the BBC or UK TV online then use a British server and so on.
It would be nice if these media sites opened up their content to the world however that seems unlikely in the short term. But there is no doubt if you look around the internet and use a couple of inexpensive proxy services you c an track down some awesome language resources online.