Using BBC iplayer abroad

There are a couple of things we expats get used to that people in Blighty might not be aware of - and I don't just mean sunshine and alcohol poisoning.

There is a great invention called the BBC iplayer that lets viewers watch programmes on their computer when they want and where they want, or to listen to radio programmes they missed. Pretty cool?

People tell me it is still possible to use iplayer abroad - as long as the BBC think you are in the UK. Apparently it is relativelyeasy for techie folk to make their computer appear to be in Britain using smething called a 'proxy' - a proxy is pretty much a website that hides where you are really surfing from, useful for lots of reasons and used by lots of people, usually for slightly dodgy reasons.

A bit of research suggests there are two ways of doing this:

1) there are sites that will tell you how to find efficient fast proxies based in the UK that you can use to access BBC iplayer - problem is, these change quite often, seemingly because the BBC 'go after them' and block them from accessing iplayer

2) there are sites that will do all the hard work for you, tracking down proxies that work and keeping things updated automatically - seemingly making it easy to always watch BBC iplayer wherever you are - but these companies charge a monthly subscription (the money doesn't go to the BBC)

The problem with both of these methods is that they are not strictly legal, if such things trouble you. Partly because it is in the BBC terms and conditions, and partly because the BBC might buy the rights to broadcast a programme in Britain but not abroad (I can see that these programmes might need to be excluded from an 'overseas' version of the iplayer).

Generally speaking, I'm thinking that if someone can supply a service that loads of people want, it is better to supply it, and make money from it, than to say no. Even the BBC needing all the cash it can get in these difficult times.

So rather than spend hours researching and writing about something that we aren't supposed to do, I thought I'd appeal directly to the BBC instead, with a proposed solution...

Fact 1) There are more than five million UK expats scattered around the world

Fact 2) Lots of people are willing to pay to use the 'illegal' proxy method to access iplayer

access to us foreigners or chasing proxy sites all the time.

Anyone have any better ideas or is it one of those things we expats should just get used to not having, like warm beer and Scottish shortbread biscuits?



  1. tom cupples May 17, 2011 at 7:50 am |

    We use My Private Network which costs £5 / month and provides the proxy service you mention. As far as I know, proxy services are not illegal because they work similar to corporate VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)and when I worked for a UK company, they provided a VPN so I could access UK based services, including the iPlayer

    Anyway, the fact that you can download the BBC iPlayer on a French IP Address (i.e. means you are not in the UK) seems to suggest that they are not too worried about it despite the fact that they then block you using the service. Why do they do this ? They don’t want to be seen to be allowing the iPlayer to be used abroad but don’t stop you downloading the software, quite aware that you can use it with a VPN.

    Interestingly, the BBC are only making the iPlayer available as an App for the iPad in the UK. The App exists but iTunes will not allow you to download it from abroad. I suspect though that if you took your iPad with you on a trip to the UK, you could then download the App and it would work from France.

  2. Boris May 17, 2011 at 8:23 am |

    Hi Tom, I wasn’t suggesting proxy services themselves are illegal in general, just my wording might have made it look like that…
    That’s an interesting idea about downloading the ipad application in the UK, it would be interesting to know if anyone has done that and if it does then work in France.

  3. tom cupples May 17, 2011 at 10:37 am |

    Sorry – a bit confusing with what I said on the iPad App. As the iPad will also have a French IP address, the iPlayer App, even if you have downloaded it elsewhere, probably will not work unless you use a proxy service as with a PC.

    As for downloading the App in the UK, I remember being in New York and downloading music from iTunes there because it was a lot cheaper. Unless they have tightened things up on iTunes, the service again just seems to look for your IP address and allows you to download whatever is available in that country.

  4. fly in the web May 17, 2011 at 10:47 pm |

    I think the insurmountable problem is the rights to sports events and whatnot…but couldn’t the BBC set up an approved link for its regular output?

  5. Johnny Norfolk May 17, 2011 at 11:35 pm |

    The reason the BBC will not do anything to supply the I player abroad as to do so would be “commercial”. The BBC just like to rake in the TV tax from us all. If they start making more money well that would never do. There is a movement in Britain that is sick and tired of the BBCs left wing bias. Its main outlet is here and will give you the other side of the BBC and how many people resent it.

  6. Cathy Winsor May 18, 2011 at 10:46 am |

    I didn’t realise the methods described on the internet might be illegal. The one I’ve been using for the last couple of years works well ..I’m not a techie person but just followed the instructions
    but my ancient laptop doesn’t have a slot for an hdmi cable and I don’t like watching things on a little screen.

  7. Boris May 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm |

    Hi Cathy,
    To be honest I’m not sure if it’s ‘illegal’ or ‘not permitted by the BBC terms and conditions’, I’d be interested to know.
    Thanks for the link, maybe I’ll give it a try this afternoon – looks straightforward at least, but Ii’m always bit nervous downloading things from sites I know nothing about.

  8. Dominique May 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm |

    Generally speaking, if you really think that if someone can supply a service that loads of people want, it is better to supply it, then you should also organise something for the import trade from Columbia. British are so unbelievable and naturally liberal…
    I am surprised to read that the BBC is still charged with biased left-wing opinions. Isn’t it an old debate from the Thatcher’s years? Is it a tribute to dig up this debate? Or the neoliberalism extremists aren’t fed up yet with that? Hope the FoxNews iPlayer works in France for them!
    On the other hand, I am not unhappy to notice that for the first time these Anglo-Saxons restrict themselves their cultural imperialistic impulses banning abroad their own TV shows!

  9. Mike September 26, 2011 at 1:32 am |

    Interesting blog. I’m sure I read somewhere that if you are managing to pick up UK programmes in another country then broadcasters like the BBC cannot exactly impose their rules from another jurisdiction, to make it unlawful for you to receive those programmes, which probably explains why millions of expats in homes and bars around europe have been sitting comfortably watching UK programmes via satellite for years! Then, that leaves the broadcaster eg BBC to control how far its own signals go, it was suggested that the legal onus was on the broadcaster when buying the rights to broadcast certain programmes intended for the UK that they contained these signals within UK boundaries hence they are forced to make best efforts to block IP’s where they can and well, basically welcome any ‘grey area’ that promotes confusion and uncertainty amongst us expats.
    Personally, I am very happy with the results provided by.-

  10. SJC August 7, 2012 at 10:10 am |

    “BBC left-wing bias” indeed! As if such quality broadcasting should challenge the hegemony of that hub of intellectual debate, Fox News as provided by the criminal Murdoch Empire. More grazed knuckles, “Johnny Norfolk”?

  11. Steve Brown February 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm |

    I’m just over the border in Catalonia, Spain but I also wish I could pay the BBC in some way or another for their wonderful programmes, especially documentaries. I use a proxy server in the UK so I’m able to receive iPlayer but it’s not really ethical. (I used to work for the BBC).

    The problem is copyright, isn’t it?

    I can see that this thread has been open for quite some time but the theme is still relevant so I’m happy to make a contribution.


  12. fl1cker February 6, 2014 at 1:27 am |

    I think many people are confusing what is in the terms of service with what is legal. If I’m outside of the UK, UK law does not apply to me. If I use the iPlayer and break their terms of service, the BBC would have to come after me for doing that. An extradition for watching TV? Not likely to happen I think.