One of the many things that I like about living in England is the television. The BBC produces great dramas, comedies and news shows. Every household pays a TV license (£145.50 per year) which pays for the BBC, so you have public ownership of the part of the media.There are four BBC channels, creatively named One, Two, Three and Four. People tell me that each has a different “flavor” of show, but I have not figured it out yet.
There are other channels that are not part of the BBC – ITV, Channel Four, Channel 5 (not to be confused with BBC Four and BBC Five).
Most of the British TV channels have websites where you can watch the shows if you missed them when they were broadcast. But, you can’t watch them online if you don’t live in the United Kingdom. Unless you use a VPN.
Use a VPN to Watch British TV in the US
The British TV websites check your location by your IP address and block their online programs if you are coming onto the internet from a location outside of the United Kingdom. The same happens if you are in the UK and want to watch US programs online. A message pops up telling you that programs are not available in your area.
There is a simple solution – run a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your computer. This lets you go onto the Internet through one of their gateways, giving you a IP address from the location you choose and “fooling” the TV websites. This works for any websites that check your location before delivering content.
I use WiTopia Personal VPN Basic for $49.99/year. The software is easy to install. When you want to be online with a different IP location, you start their software and choose the city to login from. I login to Los Angeles to watch the Daily Show online. When in the US I login to London to watch the BBC iPlayer. There are other VPNs available, and some are free, but I have been happy with WiTopia.
The VPN does not affect how your computer works. You go online through your Internet provider and then login to your VPN to change your IP address. Watch the shows on your computer or connect your computer to your TV set with an HDMI cable.
Websites for British TV
- BBC iPlayer – Watch shows online (streaming) or download iPlayer software which lets you download shows to your computer and keep them for a limited time (so you can watch offline).
- Channel 4 OD (On Demand) – They show a lot of US series on this channel but they also produce British series. The real estate show Location, Location, Location is on Channel Four.
- ITV Player – You can watch some of the
really crappynot as good as BBC British TV on ITV, but they also produced the very popular (and somewhat crappysoap-opera-ish but still very watchable) Downton Abbey.
- Channel 5 Demand5 – More
crappynot as good as BBC British TV.
Great Shows to Watch
Most shows are available online for a week or two after they are broadcast in the UK.
- BBC One is currently showing Birdsong, a two part drama based on the book by Sebastian Faulks.
- On BBC Four we are nearing the end of Borgen, a Danish drama (English subtitles) by the people who brought The Killing. You can still watch this online. It is a great political drama. Click the Episode Guide to see the shows available online.
- Channel 4 OD is showing The Fabulous Baker Brothers, an excellent cooking show featuring the owner of our local Hobbs Bakery!
Join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums – I post when good shows are broadcast.
This Is Not How It Should Be
Eventually media companies will stop blocking online visitors from other countries. It is kind of crazy that we have to do this to get access.
How We Watch TV in The UK
Cable TV is not as available here as it is in the US. Some larger cities have it but most of us use Freeview or subscribe to SKY TV.
- Freeview comes either through your antenna or a satellite and, as the name implies, is free. No monthy fee. You receive all the BBC channels, ITV, Channel 4,Channel 5 and more.
- Sky TV is owned by Rupert Murdoch. If you subscribe to SKY, they put a satellite on your roof and give you an SKY box with a digital recorder (similar to Comcast in the US but not as good as TIVO). Their SKY Atlantic channel gets all the US HBO and Showtime series – but we see them with commercials! The shows arrive here six months to a year after they broadcast in the US.
Just Days After the States
I have seen this in advertisements for US TV shows. For example “Watch House just days after the States”. Most good US TV shows get here eventually but some of the really popular ones arrive almost immediately. In March we will be watching the new season of Mad Men “just days after the states”.