The case for why geo-blocking is absolutely terrible [Opinion piece]

A map showing which European countries are allowed to stream Paramount content

In this blog post, I'll be covering HiDive's decision to lock out my country from accessing specific content that they offer.

Yeah, there's no two ways of putting this.

Geo-blocking, as a practice, is something I've never liked to begin with.

Without going too much into detail, the idea of geo-blocking video entertainment feels like a relic of a past era, of a simpler time where TV stations were region-based and content producers could just cherry pick which stations in which country got to air their show, at their whims.

If said producers felt like it made no sense to air the show in a specific country because that country's audience wouldn't find their content particularly appealing, then they could simply skip on having to pay that channel money to air their show and instead opt to air it in a more lucrative country where the audience retention would be higher and, thus, they would earn back more money from the ads that would get aired during the breaks.

Such was the world of television, and, like it or not, that was the business model.

Content producers had final say on where their shows aired and their decisions were final.

If they, for whatever reason, disliked one particular country and didn't want to air their show there, they had complete control over that and would simply choose to forgo any revenues from that country, in exchange for simply blacklisting it so that their show never aired there.

This business model, as unpopular as it was, made a lot of sense back then and I feel like it also made sense given the technological limitations at the time.

However, we don't live in that era anymore.

The rise in popularity of video on demand services was supposed to change all of this. Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, all these services functioned over the internet, a semi-free environment where such limitations simply did not exist anymore.

Yes, ISPs and autonomous systems are, by definition, geographically bound to a specific physical area on a map, but the flow of data through their wires is, for all intents and purposes, nomad.

Even if, in theory, you could trace the origin of a specific customer of your service by looking at his IP address (and that would, for 90% of cases, be enough to determine his geographical location semi-accurately) there was no reason to expect that this person was of any particular nationality.

Maybe they were simply at a hotel room in a foreign country, using their internet, so locking them out of specific content just because their IP was from a specific country would feel baseless.

Or maybe they would use an anonymization service, that hides their real IP behind a fake one, such as a proxy, a VPN or even the Tor network, in which case, you couldn't even accurately determine their location to begin with.

With such techniques at everyone's disposal, it felt very meaningless to try to impose the same restrictions of geo-blocking that used to exist in the archaic world of TV stations onto the digital and modern world of video on demand streaming.

And yet, not wishing to lose the control that they once had at their disposal, the copyright owners of entertainment media still chose to grip at the power that they still had and gave the streaming platforms ultimatums, by saying “You either give us the choice of selecting the countries we want to share our TV series and movies to, or we're not giving you sharing rights at all!”.

And when Netflix and all these other tech companies tried to push back and say “But what about customers that use VPNs?”, the copyright holders would just reply “Just block them!” without any second thought.

As far as the copyright holders were concerned, internet streaming was a gamble to begin with, and even if their very restrictive and obsessive desire for control would be seen negatively by the general public and would cause severe reputation loss, for them it still didn't matter much, since they had already built their empire using the traditional TV platform.

Basically, if internet streaming didn't work out according to their rules, then the only loss they would incur would be the loss of another revenue stream.

If things didn't work out, they could just return to the traditional TV medium instead and just make more money out of TV ads and home video releases, instead.

The true losers in that gamble would be the middlemen, the tech companies that relied on popularity to get off the ground like Netflix, that needed those entertainment properties to gather an audience that could support their business.

Seeing how they couldn't afford to lose this gamble, they submitted to the copyright holders' decision and implemented the necessary restrictions into their platform so that, as accurately as they could, they would then lock out specific countries from viewing geo-restricted content, at the whims of the licensors themselves.

“But what about the VPN and Tor users then?” you may ask?

Well, they got the short end of the stick. Netflix blocks VPN users. All the time.

And, it's not just Netflix that does this. Most, if not all video on demand providers block VPN and tor connections to their services, because they cannot accurately determine the end user's geographical location when using such technologies.

Granted, I'm sure a more sophisticated approach would have been preferable to solving this issue but, at the end of the day, the simplest solution was the one that had been adopted, which is to just block them.

Yeah, it sucks.

And, since I'm posting this on an anime blog, I should mention that Crunchyroll, as well, blocks VPNs as well, in case you were wondering.

That's because the copyright owners of TV anime shows in Japan are just as obsessive and just as much of a control freaks as their fellow peers in America.

But what's the issue with HiDive

Ah yes, now we get into the meat and bones of this article.

Everything I had written up until now was just the preliminary piece, to give you background on the topic, before we dive into the main issue that I want to talk about.

You see, my woes aren't with the practice of geo-blocking anymore.

Granted, I feel like there could be better approaches to handling such cases as having customers use VPNs but, at the end of the day, I get it.

Control freaks want to control and they need to be able to dictate exactly, in which parts of the world, their content can be streamed to.

This has been the case with traditional TV, it has also been the case with home media (you can Google “Blu-ray discs region lock” if you're curious) and it will sadly seem to be the case for internet streaming as well.

No, I came to accept this reality as the simple fact of life that it is. I don't like it but, much in the same way that cancer or poverty exists, I will concede that I don't have to like something to admit that it still exists.

The issue that I have is with streaming services that retroactively decide to just revoke access to their content after the fact.

HiDive is the subject I'll be talking about today, although this blog post will apply to anyone that does this.

The story

You see, back in 2021, I made a HiDive account for myself.

The reason I did this, while also already having a Crunchyroll account, was that I wanted to expand my catalogue of Japanese anime that I would watch on a regular basis and, also, I wanted to financially support video on demand platforms that did not mandate the installation of a proprietary client on my system in order to stream content from them.

I don't want to go too much into technical details and over the debate of Free software vs. proprietary software since that isn't the goal of this post.

Suffice it to say, I wanted to minimize the amount of proprietary software I had installed on my system to the bare minimum, and avoiding to install the Widevine CDM plugin into my browser was what I was seeking.

Sadly, the most popular of video on demand platforms, would never allow me to stream their content when they detected that I didn't have such a plugin installed on my system (since, without this plugin, there was no way to reliably create a secure environment, over which copyright protected content would be handed over to).

To this day, I've only seen two platforms that allowed me to stream which also didn't mandate that I install the Widevine CDM on my system. Those two were: Crunchyroll (which, for the record, doesn't do that anymore, as of the making of this blog post, and they now do mandate that you install the CDM if you want to play their video content) and HiDive. *Note: there was also another one called Wakanim that supposedly allowed this but I could never verify this myself due to them auto-selecting the Russian language for their website whenever I visited them from my location, for whatever reason, even though I don't and have never been to Russia in my whole life so, yeah*

HiDive, for its part, seemed like just a smaller, less reputable and more indie video on demand platform that advertised itself as hosting a lot of anime TV shows.

Despite being smaller than Crunchyroll, I believe they charged even more of a monthly price than Crunchyroll did but, in the end, I just chalked it up to them being a smaller company and, thus, needing more revenue just to grow and stay afloat than Crunchyroll did, so I accepted this and payed their price.

Their catalogue for Romania was, to put it mildly, very laughable.

They had a total of 20 TV shows to select from. That's it.

And, keep in mind, I'm being very generous when I say 20, because I don't think they even had that many. I'm pretty sure they had just 10 but, to give them the benefit of the doubt, let's just say they had 20.

And the shows they had were not the big names in anime that you would expect from a reputable streaming service. I think, among the titles which they had was Why the Hell Are You Here, Teacher!?, Peter Grill and the Philosopher’s Time and My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, as I Expected (and the last one wasn't even complete I believe, since it didn't include either the first or the last season, I can't remember which one).

So already, their offering was extremely poor compared to Crunchyroll, that had over 100 TV shows to choose from, at least.

But hey, I wanted to give it a chance. With as poor of a catalogue as that one, I still decided to go ahead and see how much I could enjoy them.

And so I began watching stuff from them.

As time went on, more stuff began being added to the catalogue, and I began to enjoy some shows, notable instances being, for example, The Executioner and her way of Life, Kaginado and Tokyo Mew Mew New.

So, while not impressed, I was having a decent time with it.

That was until the tragedy struck.

The tragedy

One day I tried visiting the website to watch a new episode of Tokyo Mew Mew New. But as soon as the browser attempted to load the site, it loaded a seemingly random page that showed me a large banner image that claimed that the website had no content available for my region.

The image banner that loaded showing a large text of "CONTENT CURRENTLY NOT AVAILABLE IN YOUR REGION"

This was very odd.

Surely it couldn't have been a VPN problem since, back then, I had no VPN at all.

I wasn't accessing the website from Tor either, so I had no idea what was going on.

Thinking that this must have been a bug, I cleared my browser's cookies and reloaded the page. Again, I got the same error.

I then closed the browser and opened it back up, made sure the cookies were gone again and then re-attempted the website. Again, same banner image.

And it was just that image. All the links on the website except for the “Contact us” one didn't lead me to anywhere else.

It didn't matter what I clicked, the annoying image wouldn't go away.

I couldn't even log into my own account.

So, angry about what happened, I went ahead and used the only working “Contact us” link to land on their support page (which did work, thankfully) and I eventually got in touch with a support employee.

I asked him what the deal was. I told him that I've already paid in advance for 1 year worth of access and this person was kind enough to trigger a refund for me, so that I got my money back soon afterwards.

He told me that HiDive execs decided to rescind all content delivery plans to Romania and that there were no plans to bring them back yet.

Naturally, I was very pissed.

Obviously the fact that I got my money back was some consolation that patched the wound a little bit but, still, what I wanted was access to their video catalogue, not this sorry excuse.

And hey, maybe I could have taken it a bit better had they had the transparency to at least send me an email in advance letting me know that, starting from date X, I would lose access to their catalogue.

But no, they never bothered.

And they didn't even have the decency of automatically reimbursing me when they stopped their access to Romania.

Had I been the type of person that seldom accessed their website, maybe once a week or even once every couple of months, I would never have noticed this change and I wouldn't have even known to ask for support to give me my money back. I'm sure that's what they were hoping for, to keep the money from those that were literally abandoned by their site and hoping that the victims wouldn't notice to ask for their money back.

Needless to say, this was a very shady move from their part.


I don't even know what to say at this point.

To some extent, I should probably say that I shouldn't have continued working with this website.

The lack of professionalism in their handling of region lockout left a lot to be desired. Hell, this is the first (and, so far, only service) that I've seen do something like this: rescind access to a country that they used to provide access to.

To some extent, some might say that the writing was on the wall with this one, especially given the lackluster catalogue that they did provide to Romania in the brief period where they offered their services to it.

They clearly didn't care about us and they didn't want to spend more money than was absolutely necessary, to license at least some shows to make them available in our country.

But, probably due to budget cuts, financial trouble or who knows what, they eventually still said “You know what? Maybe we should stop licensing shows to these third world countries that nobody ever heard about. That way, maybe we can save some extra bucks for ourselves” and BOOM!, just like that, we lost access to their meager and unimpressive catalogue.

It was a sudden and merciful end to an already pathetic measly offering.

That should have been the end of it, for me at least.

Sadly, it wasn't. And, against all better judgment, I persisted and I eventually did buy access to a VPN service.

Now, I access their website from Finland and with a different email address than my original one, so that they are none the wiser.

Technically this is a very sad way of doing things and, I'm sure, if they ever decide to put any effort in actually investigating their customers, they will surely discover that I'm using a VPN and lock me out again.

But, for the time being, this has yet to happen. So we'll see.

You might say “Why would you even bother with them if this is the way they treat you?”. And, honestly, to that question, I don't have any good answer.

I just am in desperate need for more anime shows to watch and, while Crunchyroll does satiate and provide to me the vast majority of Japanese animated content (to which I am endlessly thankful for towards them), I will admit that certain shows I would never have been able to watch, had it not been for HiDive offering them to me (originally they offered them to Romania but, since then, they were offered to me through my Finnish VPN connection). Great shows like Tokyo Mew Mew New, Too Cute Crisis, Kubo Won't Let me be Invisible and, of course, Urusei Yatsura and the masterpiece TV hit Call of the Night.

Certain shows were better than others, obviously, but, at least in my opinion, just having watched Call of the Night was enough to warrant a whole year's worth of subscription money to them.

While the way they treat their customers feels very lackluster, in more ways than one, they are capable of selecting quite an impressive catalogue of TV shows to license.

The ironic thing is, had the tragedy never happened and had they never blocked access to Romanians to their website in that fateful day, I might have never been able to access the gems that I eventually did find on their website, such as Call of the Night or Urusei Yatsura at all since, I suspect, they would never have been licensed to be viewed in Romania as they had been to Finland. So them locking me out of their site and forcing me to mask my location eventually ended up to my benefit.

As sad as it is, it is the sad truth.

Oh well. Live goes on!