Access the BBC iPlayer from Abroad

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has a long and proud history of broadcasting groundbreaking television around the globe. The BBC is internationally renowned for the quality of the journalism and entertainment that it produces and sets the standards that other state broadcasters in democratic countries aspire to.

UK citizens are able to enjoy all BBC television and radio content through the iPlayer service. BBC iPlayer is a streaming service like Netflix but exclusively for BBC content. And while BBC content is available around the globe through the BBC’s commercial arm – the World Service – iPlayer is unavailable outside the UK.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to get around these restrictions.

Region Locking?

Streaming services – whether it’s BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Hulu, or any other service – need to keep their content region-locked. Commercial streaming services will strike deals with copyright holders to distribute their content. However, these deals will only grant the streaming services the right to show the content in certain regions.

It is quite common for a TV show produced in one country to have a different distributor, and therefore different license holder, in each country or region that it is broadcast in. This means that Netflix might need to strike two different deals if it wants to show a particular show in more than one region.

The BBC is a little bit different because it is a publicly-funded institution. The BBC receives some of its funding from UK taxpayers, but it also generates revenue by selling its productions abroad. Making BBC content available in the UK makes sense – the citizens have already paid for it. But enabling international audiences to watch for free makes it much harder to sell to those markets.

How Does it Know Where You Are?

Whenever a device connects to the internet, it is assigned an IP address. Without an IP address, a device cannot physically connect to the wider internet, so there’s no getting around the need for one. IP addresses are automatically assigned by ISP (Internet Service Providers), and while they appear like a string of random digits to a human, they actually contain quite a lot of information.

An IP address can be traced back to a physical address, well, technically it can be traced back to a router, but the IP itself doesn’t indicate a specific location. It does, however, tell you the ISP and the geographical region a connection is coming from. Online services simply look at your IP address, which you need to expose to them in order to connect with them, to determine what region you are in.

How Can I Watch iPlayer Outside the UK?

There are two methods that you can use to circumvent this kind of region-locking; a VPN or a proxy. Each of these options works along the same principles, but there are some subtle yet important differences between them.

The premise of both technologies is simple – by connecting to an intermediary server, rather than directly to internet servers, it is possible to hide your IP address. Usually, when you connect to a website or service, your device connects directly to the relevant server, handing over the IP address as part of the TCP/IP handshake.

But, if you connect to a VPN or proxy server, and then tell that server what you want to do online, the website or service that you ultimately connect to will see the IP address of the intermediary server instead.

That’s already great from a privacy perspective, but we still have a problem – we need to be in the UK to watch iPlayer. Actually, it is only your IP address that needs to show as being within the UK. So, if you connect to a UK proxy server, and then access iPlayer, iPlayer will see the UK IP address of your proxy instead.

It Can’t be That Simple?!

Oh, but it is! We would advise you to steer well clear of any free proxy services – these are not to be trusted as they are perfect for harvesting data. We also mentioned VPNs earlier – a VPN can achieve the same results as a proxy, but each one is suited best to different scenarios.

One advantage of proxies in this particular case is that you can buy a proxy service that uses residential IP addresses. Streaming services are regularly blacklisting the IP addresses of known VPN providers and data centers, making them less effective for circumventing region locking.

As long as you take the time to ensure that any proxy service that you buy is legit and you avoid the free services like the plague, it is really simple and straightforward to use a proxy in order to access iPlayer from around the world. With a VPN, you will run the risk of the IP address being blocked. However, with a residential proxy, the chances of being blacklisted are very slim.

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