Using the BBC iPlayer outside of the UK

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 10 August 2007

This article doesn't explain how to use the iPlayer from outside the UK, it is about what happened in 2007 when the iPlayer was first launched and the BBC thought you were outside the UK. An official international version of the BBC iPlayer is now available.

I was hoping this week to be able to write a piece about how the BBC's iPlayer beta performed when I took it out of the country on my laptop.

I was all geared up for it, and had defined the set of test cases I wanted to explore:

  • Downloading a programme in the UK, watching it in the UK, then re-watching it before the expiry of the 7-day window outside of the UK
  • Downloading a programme in the UK, watching it for the first time outside of the UK
  • Partially downloading a programme in the UK, and then resuming the download outside of the UK - most likely in Athens airport during the lengthy stopover I had there before reaching Chania.
  • Initiating a download outside of the UK when successfully downloaded programmes existed in the library.

Unfortunately, this isn't that article - because my plans were inadvertently scuppered by T-Mobile's wifi.

Because I had been staying at various different places during my couple of weeks in the UK, and, naturally, hadn't been able to connect my own laptop willy-nilly to the BBC's network, it took a while to get the iPlayer installed.

And not just because of having to upgrade to Windows Media Player 11 in the process.

In fact, I didn't get the iPlayer beta fully installed until a couple of days before I left the UK, and so on my last day in the BBC's offices last week, I took an hour out to sit in the Starbucks below the BBC's Media Centre in White City. That meant I could get on with some work on my regular laptop using the T-Mobile wireless hotspot there, and in the background get downloading the files from iPlayer that I needed to conduct my tests.

Which is when I ran into the fact that the iPlayer already thought that I was outside of the UK.

As this video clip shows, it wasn't an iPlayer specific problem.

You'll note that when I visited the BBC News site straight afterwards, it has the tabbed international version of the global navigation toolbar on screen, not the regular UK grey one.

So for whatever reason, presumably to do with the way that T-Mobile route their wifi hotspot traffic, the BBC's website thinks that the branch of Starbucks underneath the buildings where the BBC website is made, is outside the UK.

Starbucks at the BBC Media Village

Despite being underneath the BBC's offices, the T-Mobile hotspot in this Starbucks appears beyond the UK's shores to the BBC.

I know that geo-locating IP addresses isn't (yet) a completely done deal, but the irony of it made me laugh out loud. Less amusingly though, it meant that I couldn't run my iPlayer tests this week. Ho-hum, maybe when I'm back in the UK in September.

46 Comments

I wish iplayer wasn't restricted to UK. I listen to bbc radio online and there isn't any problem with that side of things.
from an frustrated world citizen.

This 'only in the UK' stuff is unbelievable! For some reason the UK always has to put itself apart from the rest of the world. I'm surprised you brits don't have imperial computers instead of binary ones.

Oh well, they shot themselves in the foot, I'm just going back to good old youtube...

Arnoud, maybe you are not aware that all of the content in the iPlayer is financed by every household in the UK with a television paying a compulsoryTV Licence Fee which is more than £2.50 per week - thats about $1 a day at today's exchange rates. A lot of people in Britain don't see why you should then get to watch for free, whilst they have no choice whether to foot the bill or not.

I for one would be willing to pay a license fee to access BBC programming, such as test matches, from my home in the U.S. The BBC should offer this option--if the cost of access is indeed the only issue, just let us join for a flat fee or a per-program fee!

Wait until later in the year when the joint BBC/ITV/Channel 4 pay as you watch service comes on-line - Project Kangaroo - just Google it !

..that comment about the license fee is about the stuffiest response i've heard in quite some time and makes me so happy i no longer live in the u.k

one person living in the u.s here is offering to pay your tv license fee for you. so guess what? maybe that would mean you wouldn't have to pay the bloody thing full stop

Stuffy or not, I agree with that guys comments... I used to live in the UK, now live in Canada...and trust me for the $30 or so basic cable costs...the results is sh*te TV... the licence fee seemed DAMN good value in contrast... If I could pay and get all the content Piped to Canada, I would (no BBC Canada isnt the same..and costs a fair bit for one channel...digital TV here sucks badly)

So what if thousands of people in other countries want to watch BBC tv? If you live in UK and get stuck with paying the license fee, tough luck! This kind of "unfairness" is all around you. Its called Life.

It's perfectly reasonable that UK residents should be able to access BBC programmes for free given that they've in part financed the BBC through licence fees, whilst non UK internet surfers have not. On the other hand I fail to understand why non copyrighted programmes cannot be downloaded by those outside the UK for a fee. Everyone wins, the BBC - extra revenue, the UK Licence payer - lower burden on him as the principal funder , and of course, the non UK based viewer.

I'm with the 'we'll pay the licence fee for access' crowd. Our local Australian networks are far too timid to buy up a lot of the excellent BBC programming so we end up having to download the stuff. I'd rather do it the right way, thanks very much, even if they restricted it to stuff that the local networks have bought or jettisoned (Torchwood, for instance).

I'm British but living in the US at the moment and gutted I'm not able to watch the latest series of the Apprentice.
(I'm very sad, I know. But I saw the first episode before flying out and was instantly hooked.)
I'd definitely pay a monthly subscription or pay per show. It's doubly annoying that the BBC puts loads of clips on YouTube which I can't play because I'm out of the country.
And I'm confused because the BBC streamed its coverage of the Six Nations rugby for example which I was able to access perfectly for free online from here in New York.
And the licence fee argument surely applies to radio so why can I listen for free to BBC radio online too but not watch telly?

@Arnoud Delporte

Like already mentioned, one reason its UK only is because its paid for by UK citizens. Having moved out of UK 3 years ago I do miss UK TV. A lot of it here is import from USA, and as a result its over censord (sp?. I do agree though, a pay per view tv would resolve this.

Secondly though, and I think the most relevant, is licensing issues. The BBC buys many of its programs from production companies to be viewed in the UK. The production companies might not want the BBC to broadcast around the world as they may have their own plans for region X. Fair enough, BBC own productions could be transmitted.

And thirdly, since I player launch Uk ISP have seen traffic peak. The UK has an awful internet infrastructure, and its about to come to a grinding halt. As a reult the ISPs want BBC to pay for the extra traffic...which in turn will be charged to the UK citizens. BT have crippled the UK by dragging their feet. INternet in Uk is expensive, slow and I cant believe there are peak hours and non peak, in which some websites are banned!

So its not becuase the UK want to be different, its becuase we want to protect our own interests first.

Of course it would be great if iplayer was available worldwide.

However, for commenters such as Arnold Delporte, if you would like to contiribute towards paying my £30 per month!! UNAVOIDABLE licence fee, I would have more sympathy for your position.

I did avoid paying the licence fee in my old place, but at my new address, I've had inspectors call 4 times since December....!

Why is it £30 per month instead of £15 or whatever it should be?

Because for the first years fee, the BBC INSIST that it is paid over 6 months......Outrageous...

so i pay all the taxes, licensee fee etc, because my primary address is in the UK...but i cannot happen to access all the bbc services if i happen to be outside of the uk... haven't people heard of world travel or working abroad, etc... you've paid for it.. but just because we don't like where you are you cant use the service. they should give us some subscription or login services to use what we HAVE PAID FOR!!!

I know the uk has a strong proportion of the population that just thinks like island people ( just watch the news and mention immigration for example)... but some of us are still be denied the service we have paid for because we don't always live every second of the year within the UK borders. let alone the extra stealth taxes I've have paid, which add up to more than my council tax because I have a non eu citizen wife.. who by the way against the stereotype has lowered her standards of living to join me in the uk... i could go on, but the point is people don't all live the same way.. and thus the current rules make false assumptions to determine whether you have paid for the service or not.

Ladies & Gents,

I too live outside the UK and find it very frustrating that I can't watch the iPlayer programming. I do miss 'Have I got news for you'.

To those who complain about paying the licence fee. I hated it when I lived there, but would pay it if I were there now. I miss the BBC and the impartial broadcasting it produces. TV here in Aus is appalling. Cheap US crap mostly and TV where you can't upset the sponsors. Auntie Beeb may seem expensive but try to appreciate it, 'cos you're a lot better off than some of us.

The fact is that you can currently legally watch programmes on IPlayer in the UK without having paid a TV license fee as the programmes aren't streamed live at this stage.

I am currently a UK licence fee payer and will be going to Australia for 12 months and will still be paying my licence fee but wont be able to watch Iplayer. Smacks of greed and hypocracy if you ask me!

i don't really understand why the iplayer is not available in mainland europe considering that all the BBC's output is COMPLETELY FREE-TO-AIR across Europe and is accessible subscription free and perfectly legally to anyone with a satellite dish. So the whole licence fee argument isn't really valid as far as europe is concerned,

As for the US, Canada and Australia is concerned, you can understand the BBC protecting their interests. BBC America would be rendered pointless if the iplayer were to suddenly become available to US residents. There are also lots of legal issues I imagine.

That said, I understand the BBC will be releasing an international iplayer soon anyway, so it'll be interesting to see how that will work.

regarding the tv licence, if you live in the uk but watch all your content online, you dont need to buy a licence.

I'm a UK licence payer, abroad for a while and I don't see why I can't watch Glastonbury on the iPlayer that my licence fee is paying for.

Surely the point of public service broadcasting is that it's a public service?

Not just for those who pay - that's a private service, or is this like the English public schools so-named because they are open to anyone who can afford them?

What a bunch of whiners. Tell you what we'll pay the tele tax and you can pay some US expenses for a while. How about $10,000 a night for hospital care, not the doctor just the hospital. Sure we watch tv for free but we are swarmed with commercials and cut programs to accommodate for those commercials. Even BBC America of which we must bay $65/mo in cable fees for still has commercials. We are the ones that pay double for BBC programs on DVD only to be the last to get them. The BBC is cutting their own market and they know it which is why on their website it says they are working on an international version.

Isn't this a licensing issue?

The BBC can't show you programs outside the UK because other companies have bought the rights to do that. In other words the BBC are not allowed to broadcast beyond the area they have bought the rights for. It can't be controlled with signals over the air, but it can be controlled if the signal is via the Web.

The problem isn't the broadcasting company, it's the whole way that licensing is managed and regulated. The traditional way has been to sell licenses by territory - frankly, the only way it could have been done. The future lies in changing regulations and licenses to enable broadcasting companies to secure rights for their users - whichever country they may be watching from.

And yes, users - wherever they are - WILL have to pay the broadcasting company for those rights.

This can only be for the good as

1) The 5% plus of the population who would like to watch a program but can't because it's not in their natural language will now be able to do so.

2) The licensees will increase their revenue as a result of more people being able to watch their programs

3) There will be competition among companies who broadcast in the same language. That competition will result in either lower prices for customers, or better quality.

Nightmare!....... I just want to watch the news..... Won't even let me do that anymore. I pay for my licence but spend more than 8 months of the year away with work. The BBC should cater for those abroad, often it is the only way we know what is going on. Have you ever watched CNN world service..... What a joke!! Somewhat irresponsible at times! Apparently the cold war is back on!!!!

Lawyers lawyers, lawyers. And marketing men.

I can watch BBC in France, but only due to geographical happenchance. Likewise can hear Radio Five Live on air, but not over the web.

But this is hardly the BBC's fault. They are governed by strict guidelines on how to cater for their licence fee payers. The production companies also have their say, on where and when their content can be shown, as do the Murdochs of the world. BBC also generates plenty of revenue from selling DVDs round the world. Would UK residents want to see that revenue stream crippled?


To those who say it's the Brits being stiffy - think of regional DVDs (Hollywood) that is protectionism by a cartel at its most ugly. Or software companies charging more for software in various different parts of the world.

Yes the BBC's stand is a pain in the arse (espesh for those who pay the fee and are overseas a lot), but without all those picky stipulations on how it operates it wouldn't be providing some of the best news, drama and sport in the world.

You get what you pay for, which in the case of most whingers on here is nothing.

Why the hell can't they make the content available outside the UK for a fee, at least the non copyright ones... I hate them. Trust me it is not just the ex-pat Brits who want BBC, I bet it will be the whole of the Commonwealth

I agree - I too am living in Switzerland and can watch BBC and ITV channels - so I can not see why the BBC can not at least offer iplayer to Europe.

Saying all that does anyone know when the BBC intend to launch their world iplayer.

Jeez ease up people, it's not like the US don't have any television of their own.

And its exactly the same case for those in the UK trying to watch US shows- Hulu and the Broadcasters sites with players on them are also restricted. Simply because the broadcaster only have broadcasting rights inside the country. if for instance the US are showing a show, and a UK channel is airing it two months later, the US broadcaster would be undermining the UK one by allowing UK viewers to watch it on the US site first, therefore not watching it on their tv.

All you transatlantic guys really need to do your homework before bitching about the BBC. There are a number of TV shows from the US that are streamed over the internet but I cant access them in the UK in the same way. Your networks make us wait until our networks have bought them and shown them over here. This is not a UK only problem its clearly global where studios invest money in production costs and want to see the maximum return. ITS CALLED BUSINESS.

I'm in the US and love BBC Radio (thank you for providing it for free!) and would love to watch BBC tv.

I don't think any consumer should have to pay for television full stop. Companies pay a lot of money to paste their names, logo's and stupid commercials all over a program.

I watch a lot of tv programs online here and they have commercials and surveys which is fine with me. That's a small "price" to pay to be able to watch what I want, when I want.

Sponsors pay of their own free will, and pay quite a hefty price tag (just look at ad prices for the SuperBowl!). I don't understand why this couldn't work online globally.

No one has explained, to my satisfaction, why this would not work online all over the world, for US as well as UK programs.

The reasons BBC Radio is available abroad while BBC television is not are quite simple.

1) Radio programmes have practically no international resale value.

2) UK taxpayers pay for international BBC broadcasts via the World Service - not, however, through the licence fee, but through a grant from the Foreign Office.

I now live in Canada...I used to complain about the license fee but basic cable is complete crap and costs more. I would pay the equivalent of the license fee to have the BBC stream online.

Count me as another who would happily pay a license fee (or equivalent) for access to BBC iPlayer fare -- or on a pay-on-demand basis through a service such as Project Kangaroo.

In the U.S., BBC-America too often is more a hinderance than a help. Its programming is so narrow as to exclude many favorites, yet its very presence implies on the one hand "problem solved (what more do you want?)" and, on the other, a promise that skipped over BBC programmes MIGHT someday air here, despite all evidence to the contrary.

To claim that the BBC is "financed by every household in the UK with a television paying a compulsory TV Licence Fee" is utter nonsense. This is the myth that the BBC put out to ensure that the gullible British public keep paying up! Most of the funding for the BBC comes from selling rights to programmes to overseas broadcasters. The licence fee returns approximately 8% of the revenues of the BBC. Check their latest annual report.

Additionally, this argument doesn't stand up when they allow the braodcast of radio via the iPlayer to overseas locations.

Finally, I'm English. I have homes in Mexico, UK and USA. Why the hell should I only be able to watch programmes when I'm in one of those countries? If I pay my licence fee, it's up to me where I watch TV. If I want to sit naked in the middle of the street and watch TV, that's up to me not the BBC!

p.s, you can only watch certain shows outside the UK even though they've been downloaded fully in the UK.

Tim, I think the only person spreading a myth here is you. The Licence Fee accounts for £3.2 billion pounds of income. Are you really suggesting that it is only 8% of the BBC's money and that really they have around £40 billion to spend a year? That would make the Ross salary a real drop in the ocean!

Tim wrote "If I pay my licence fee, it's up to me where I watch TV"

But its up to the BBC to let you watch their broadcasts. Bad luck mate hehehe

...and thinking about it, his neighbours might have something to say about Tim sitting naked in the street as well

people, the BBC made this decision, not the people of England. the only reason they do it is because the owner of the shows (sometimes BBC sometimes not) demands it so they can sell the shows overseas. it is exactly the same reason songs on itunes are protected. if they were available for free, this would potentially diminish this potential. sounds good on paper, in reality, a pile of crap. pretty much any US TV show can be downloaded for free on bit-torrent. does this have any impact on non US TV stations licensing the shows? no.
as far as UK residents resenting the fact that they need to pay while others don't ... well ... they also pay for road maintenance. maybe they want to start charging tourists a fee for walking the streets of London. BBC is a public service, and an excellent one at that. UK residents fund this service the same way they fund any public service. if the cost of service delivery rises due to the need to provide it for non UK residents (as is the case for hospital treatment) - fair enough. charge a fee or deny it. but this is not the case here (and pls, no splitting hairs arguments about the cost of bandwidth)

my 2 cents

Apparently the eu will be changing the tv laws at the end of this year so that tv companies have to make their broadcasts available throughout the european union... How will the BBC get round this?

Tinman, I believe you are referring to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. As far as I am aware from the FAQ about it - it doesn't require TV channels to broadcast across Europe, it merely sets up a regulatory framework so that there are common standards on advertising, protecting minors from access to adult content and so forth

BBC America there is nothing good on that channel. And British TV is much better than the US. I hope we can watch it soon the the web I live in the US, but I am British I miss all the shows, so come BBC work something out and no one should have to pay but if the price is right I will pay for Eastenders which BBC America took of the air BBC America RUBBISH

we cant get bbc iplayer in ireland yet we do pay the t.v licence!!!! is there any just reason for that

To be honest it appears the BBC went down a cheaper route to prevent overseas viewers from watching BBC content. However an awful lot of people work overseas for up to 6 months and still pay their TV Licence fee.

The BBC really should have a system where an access code can be randomly generated monthly and emailed to your account, as long as you pay the TV licence.

You will always get people trying to view content from all over the world anyway, but at least this will allow those who are paying and happen to be overseas a chance to view what they have paid for!

Well, if the people keeping us from watching the BBC because of a tax they HATE, then maybe they shoud do what we did. We became rebels fought the great UK empire kicked it out of our country and our TV is free. Think about it, who really needs a king or queen anyway? Sell off those castles, boot the royal family and use all that cash to pay for your TV.

James, how you miss the point, the BBC is publicly funded to stop politicians and other powers that be interfering with the way news is delivered. This ideology is something typically American. This is why it was set up this way, so that the people deliver the peoples news.
If you are happy to live in a world governed by (an aussie) Rupert Murdoch as he dictacts all his news, agendas & political views, then good luck.

Believe me as a Brit when I say you wouldn't want to watch this BBC crap anyway. Don't believe the "best TV in the world" propaganda - it's a smug, self-serving little quango that has it's armed terrorist wing know as TV-licencing who threaten the poor and old-ladies with their strong-arm scare tactics. Fuck the BBC - close it down

I don't understand all these complaints about people outside the UK not being able to watch UK programmes. It's hardly a one-way street. I can't watch Family Guy or the US Masters online because these "cannot be viewed from your current country or location", and these aren't funded from a compulsory licence fee.

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