I finally found a use for a VPN: live TV

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I read and hear a lot about VPNs (virtual private networks). The best VPN services are services used by some to make their computer appear to be somewhere else. They're popular for logging into remote servers, watching international Netflix to see stuff that isn't licensed for your country and hiding your activity from your ISP (among other things).

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None of that really appeals to me though. I have more than enough Netflix to watch (I'm criminally behind), and the many other reasons just did not apply. And so I spent years thinking "yeah, VPNs are great if you have a reason."

Last month, though, on a vacation, I finally found a reason for a VPN: to watch live programming. And while it worked right once, that wasn't always the case. But since I managed to use a VPN to see some of the live shows I wanted to, I thought I should at least share that information with y'all. 

That's because of a weird behavior from certain cable channels, such as USA and TNT. Both have East and West coast feeds, and that's not exactly a great thing. Sure, it helps the channels show movies during the prime time slots, but both networks also air my not-so-guilty pleasure: pro wrestling.

And the thing about pro wrestling is that it's so much better live. So why, I wondered, as I stared at my hotel TV, does the USA Network air Monday Night Raw at 8 p.m. PT, when it's originally broadcast live on air at 8 p.m. ET, three hours prior? Or at least why isn't the USA east coast feed easily available?

I don't want to belabor the point more, but in an age of the constant online conversation about live events on social media, this makes so little sense. TNT doesn't do this with NBA games, and is its pro wrestling show (All Elite Wrestling's Dynamite) any less live?

How I got around it

So, dear reader, at around 5 p.m. on a Monday in Las Vegas, I watched pro wrestling at the same time as everyone out east. And it worked pretty easily. I opened ExpressVPN, set my region to New York, and opened a live TV streaming app I was testing.

At that moment, I'd regretted not buying an USB-C to HDMI dongle so I could watch it on my hotel TV and not my iPad Pro, but I got to see (an OK episode of) Monday Night Raw live. And then at 8 p.m. PT, it was time to have dinner. Honestly, I thought to myself, this is pretty neat. I almost thought I'd rather this schedule (but that's besides the point).

I used a VPN to watch WWE Raw live from the west coast.

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

So if you're annoyed by a TV channel not showing programming live, but on a tape delay instead, a VPN may be your new best friend. Otherwise, I'd probably have gone hunting for the illegal east coast feeds hosted on sites that get taken down on an annual basis.

For me, I can see signing up for a VPN whenever I go on a trip. It doesn't seem like a must-have year-round, but your mileage (of course) may vary.

VPN didn't always work — though alternatives exist

That previous Friday night, I was in a pickle. My buddy and I were hanging out in Vegas trying to find a way to watch the hotly anticipated (you guessed it) wrestling event of the month: CM Punk was rumored (but not announced) to make his return to pro wrestling. And he was going to do it on AEW Rampage on TNT.

But, as you may remember, TNT is one of those channels. And for some reason ExpressVPN on my phone wasn't unlocking the TNT's east coast variant. Fortunately for me, my internet friend Sam (who I'd finally met and thanked later that night) put me onto a tip: the TNT app has the east coast feed for free, provided you have an account to log in with. 

The only other issue I had with using a VPN for time-shifting live programming was when trying to use it for the Fox broadcast channel. For some reason, every single live streaming service I was testing refused to give me the east coast Fox feed, no matter what state my VPN said I was in. I managed to find a way to make it work, but that's a story for a different article. 

Be sure to check out my guides to the best streaming devices (and best streaming services) for more recommendations. Email me at henry.casey@futurenet.com or leave a comment below with anything you’d like to see me cover in the streaming world — I might just address it in a future installment.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.