Maybe you're a British expat far from your native land, long deprived of Coronation Street and Downton Abbey, or an American Britophile who would like to see an episode of EastEnders that hasn't been out for two months already. Either way, you're hankering for a bit of quality programming.
Unfortunately, the Brits like to keep that to themselves. There is BBC America, but I've heard enough complaints about it that I don't think it's the ideal solution (unless you're hooked on Benny Hill reruns). So I have tried to watch UK TV online. Many times I have found an episode from a great series on an internet player and clicked to watch, only to be told, "This content is not currently available in your area" or "media request failed." A grave disappointment. Then, when I decide that I'll just have to settle for watching a regular DVD, it's region encoded. Foiled again.
But there is an answer, my friends! Here are some tried and true methods of getting what is unarguably the best television programming in the world, even if you're far away from Britain:
The Free and Easy SolutionThanks to a very helpful reader named Chris, I have discovered the fastest, simplest way possible to watch all that BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, and 4OD have to offer. If you have the Google Chrome or Firefox search engine just go to mediahint.com and download the plugin. It takes seconds, is absolutely free, and now you can access all these players without any headache.
ITV did ask me for a British postcode after I'd installed the plugin, and I just put in this random code from Cambridge: CB21 4DJ.
Once you're set up check out My Expat Telly to find a list of British TV websites.
Fool the Internet
If you can't get the MediaHint plugin, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a nearly foolproof way to stream live British TV and also catch up on past episodes of your favorite shows (Sherlock and Top Gear, anyone?). Basically, you are tricking the internet into thinking that your computer is located in the UK, therefore lifting the barrier over BBC and ITV players. With the right equipment, you can even connect your laptop to your television and enjoy British TV like the Brits.
Here are a few websites that offer this service:
- Witopia.net: Starting at $5.99/month or $49.99/year
- My-expat-network.co.uk: £5/month (roughly $7.85)
- Britishtvanywhere.com: €7.99/month (roughly $10.69) or €69.99/year (roughly $93.63)
Subscribe and Stream
It seems that most of the United States is already on these websites, but just in case you're behind the times you may not realize how many British shows are offered by online video streaming websites. Both Hulu and Netflix have a wide selection of British movies and television shows. Hulu is free (supported by advertising), but not all shows are available (see the British selection here). With Hulu Plus you pay $7.99/month to stream your favorite shows (still with a few advertisements). A Netflix subscription will cost $7.99 for online streaming (pay $7.99 more if you want their DVD-by-mail service).
Turn on THETELLY
The most expensive solution I have found is THETELLY. According to their website they use something called a placeshifter (like Slingbox), a "video transmitter...that streams video over the Internet." "Your UK based placeshifter connects to your recorder (right next to it) and sends your private feed over the Internet to wherever you happen to be...enabling you to still watch every UK Freeview, Freesat or SKY channel from wherever you are." You can also record programs to view later (a lifesaver for timezone differences).
This allows you to watch UK TV on your computer, mobile device, or television as long as you have an internet connection and one of those placeshifters. The packages start at $19/day (no setup) and goes all the way to the long-term package of $99/month plus a $799 setup fee.
Hack Your DVD Player
For those of you who want to watch British films on DVD, you run up against the same problem of blocking due to region. Most US DVD players aren't able to handle British DVDs...without a little tweaking. With a little expertise and a remote control some players can actually be hacked, meaning that you won't have to invest in a pricey new region-free DVD player. Check out videohelp.com/dvdhacks and search for your player's model number to see if there's a hack for you.
The other option is to watch a DVD on your computer. While some video viewing programs are rigid on region encoding, the simple-yet-elegant VLC video player has no such compunctions. Download the player and in minutes you'll be able to watch all your favorite British DVDs. This is how I first watched the amazing BBC miniseries North and South, on DVDs borrowed from a British friend.
Which British shows would you love to follow?
Disclaimer: British households pay £145.50 a year for a UK TV license in order to watch and record live broadcasted UK TV. Watching live British TV without paying your license fee is illegal.