×

Does Netflix Really Have 20 Million-Plus Users in China? Research Firm Projects Massive VPN Base

North of 30 million monthly users access Netflix from countries where it doesn’t even offer service — including 21.6 million in China — if recent estimates from a British online-research firm are to be believed.

Those users would have to tunnel through virtual private network (VPN) services, to trick Netflix into seeing them as legitimately accessing the streaming service in another country (i.e., the U.S.). Consumers use VPNs and other geo-spoofing tech to log in to Netflix either because the service is not available in their country or because content they want is not licensed for their territory. Either way, that’s a violation of the terms of Netflix’s licensing deals with studios and networks.

According to U.K.-based GlobalWebIndex, some 54 million people use VPNs to watch Netflix on a monthly basis. In addition to the 21.6 million estimate for China, Netflix streaming users in India (where Netflix also has not launched) total 6.4 million. Meanwhile, Netflix offers service in Brazil and Mexico, but VPN users in those countries total 4.9 million and 2.6 million, respectively, per GWI. The research firm extrapolated the figures based on surveys of 83,000 people in the second half of 2014.

How real are these numbers?

Netflix reps declined to comment on the GWI research study. But the estimate of 54 million VPN users seems unusually high, given that as of the end of the third quarter 2014, Netflix had a total of 53 million streaming customers worldwide (70% of which are in the U.S.).

The explanation from GWI: There’s a very high instance of users sharing account log-ins. Per its surveys, just 34% of individuals who said they have accessed Netflix in the past month actually pay for the service.

The high level of VPN usage, at least as measured by GWI, gives Netflix a big incentive not to cut off those users, said Jason Mander, the research firm’s head of trends. A recent report suggested Netflix was cracking down on illicit VPN usage, but the company has denied it’s blocking virtual private networks. “I couldn’t believe that Netflix would be doing such a thing — which, as it turns out, they weren’t,” Mander said.

According to Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt, the company does not block VPN users outright. However, the company says it uses industry-standard methods to prevent consumers from virtually crossing borders in violation of the terms of use.

On GWI’s survey, Netflix users are defined as those who said they have used the service within the last month. The report is based on Q3 and Q4 2014 waves of online research among 83,806 adults aged 16-64 in 32 countries. Within that sample, there were 16,889 Netflix users.

According to Mander, GWI’s surveys have margins of error of less than 3.6%, depending on sample size in each country. The Netflix data is part of the standard questionnaire, to which all of the researcher’s subscribing clients have access.

More Digital

  • FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone,

    SAG-AFTRA Warns Members About FaceApp Terms of Use

    SAG-AFTRA is warning its 160,000 members about the “overreaching and invasive” terms of use for the FaceApp mobile application. FaceApp, developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, uses neural network technology to automatically generate transformations of faces in photographs. The app can be used to make users appear older, younger, or change gender. The terms include [...]

  • J. Cole

    Apple Music Launches 'Rap Life' Playlist

    Apple Music announced the launch of “Rap Life,” a new global playlist focusing on contemporary rap artists and culture. It replaces the former “The A-List: Hip-Hop” playlist. Said Ebro Darden, Apple Music’s Global Editorial Head of Hip-Hop and R&B: “We flipped it to dig deeper into into the lifestyle [and to] keep pushing the culture [...]

  • Billie Eilish

    ARRI, Mobile TV Group Back New Venture Revitalizing Streamed Concerts

    A new venture looking to bring a fresh approach to live-streaming concerts has gotten the backing of hardware heavyweights ARRI and Mobile TV Group. Wide+Close is launching with the mandate of shooting music performances with film cameras and cinematographers in order to give the content a more cinematic feel. “We want to take concert filming [...]

  • Fortnite Battle Royale

    How 'Fortnite' Fans Can Earn Loot by Watching YouTube Videos

    Epic Games and YouTube have teamed up with a special offer for “Fortnite” players — giving players of the popular battle-royale game rewards when they watch “Fortnite”-premiered content on the video platform. The catch: You have to watch at least 20 minutes of “Fortnite” special content or live esports broadcasts to receive the loot. Under [...]

  • Roku headquarters

    Roku Plans to Expand to Brazil, Other Countries (EXCLUSIVE)

    Roku plans to expand to multiple new territories in the coming months, Variety has learned. One of the first new markets for the company will likely be Brazil. An international expansion could help Roku grow its customer base, which in turn should lead to growing advertising revenues. Roku executives have been hinting at plans to [...]

  • Google Stadia Pro to Include 1

    Google’s Stadia Game Streaming Service to Include Free Monthly Game

    Google has been busy sharing additional details about its upcoming game streaming service Stadia, clearing up some confusion in the process. Stadia’s pro subscription tier, which will cost $10 per month, won’t be a Netflix-type subscription service. However, subscribers will get free games at the rate of about a title per month. That’s according to [...]

  • Crypt-TV-Facebook

    Facebook Signs Deal With Crypt TV for Slate of Five Horror Series

    Crypt TV, the digital studio founded by Eli Roth and Jack Davis and backed by Jason Blum, expanded its deal with Facebook, inking a content partnership to create a slate of five horror and monster-themed series exclusively for Facebook Watch. For Facebook Watch, it’s one of the first deals for a full slate of content [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content