We´re sure one of the reasons the Internet was created is so that anyone anywhere could watch any TV show at any point. This noble reason likely beat out “having a place for posting angry diatribes while unclothed” in the DARPA scientists’ top ten. As the Internet had finally fulfilled its promise, you could watch the finale of “Lost” right on the island.
We found a few simple enough approaches to how you can watch your favorite shows even while traveling or living abroad. They are based on the fact that at first you will most likely run into a problem.
The problem you will encounter on popular TV streaming sites like Hulu.com or BBC.com/iplayer or Skysports.com is a message like “We’re sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed within the United States,” or Britain, or the country of your choice. This happens because advertisers on these sites generally target domestic audiences, and also because the networks who own the shows often rely on selling overseas broadcast rights. The concept of “overseas” has a whole new meaning in the Internet age, but big corporations will keep trying to figure out how to bring it all back to how things used to be. Mostly in futile attempts because there is always a way around artificial Internet boundaries. In the cases of UK´s BBC or ITV, there’s also the matter of the mandatory TV license fee paid by all UK residents. Not everyone in the world deserves to catch up on “Eastenders” or “Coronation Street” with just a few easy clicks.
These larger online streaming services check your computer’s IP address (which identifies it on the net) and can see where you are currently based. There are however ways to access such services by using either a PROXY or a VPN service.
We will try to spare you the computerese that can easily follow. Suffice to say, Proxy servers are either free or charged (depending on the level of service and connection speed you are looking for) and work fairly well when you need to watch content right in your browser (like the Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc). If you need to download a player or application that will allow you to watch something, then the proxy solution will often not work for you and you could look to use a paid VPN service that will essentially make every connection on your pc have a location of that of the VPN (UK, US, etc.).
A proxy can be set up either through creating a different set of settings within your browser/PC or through an application that you install. One example of such is Hotspot Shield (hotspotshield.com). In essence proxies ammonize your location to the proxy server’s location which can be anywhere in the world. Many proxy applications are free because they will subject you to advertising that will run on top of the page while you are watching something. These applications also don’t tend to provide much security or connection speed, with information traveling through the proxy with little or no encryption. Your enemies might easily find out which episode of Glee you’re up to.
On the other hand, a VPN (or a Virtual Private Network) is also an application you install, but essentially provides a secure “tunnel” in the Internet through which you can burrow into your country’s network. To get into this tunnel, you need to subscribe and pay for the VPN service. The VPN will be much more stable and secure than the proxy, encrypting all traffic that goes through it. You can either pay to be on a VPN of your own or on a VPN that has a set number of users against it.
Another advantage of VPNs over proxies is speed, although you’d need to pay more if you want to hug more bandwidth and watch your shows in greater quality.
Some VPN services to consider:
* UK Proxy Server (www.ukproxyserver.co.uk) – a solid and tried company (costing from £6.25/month based on the amount of bandwidth you sign up for and for how long – it´s cheaper to sign up for a year but probably impractical as services and needs change quickly in online TV land). They offer Proxy and VPN solutions for a number of countries (UK/US/Canada/Spain among others).
* VPN4ALL (www.vpn4all.com) – its global VPN network includes 20 countries and prices start at $9.95/month.
* The excitingly named Hide My Ass (www.hidemyass.com) offers free proxy servers and paid VPNs starting at $11.52/month). Their VPNs work with USA, UK, Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands.
An altogether different (and pricier) approach to watching your favorite TV while traveling is investing in hardware. A Sling Box (www.slingbox.com/go/slingbox) is a device that retails for just under $200 that you plug into your TV or cable box and to an Internet connection. You can then control it through software installed on your computer/laptops/phones while you’re anywhere in the world! Whatever television is streaming into your Slingbox back at home is what you can watch right on your laptop. Just make sure to pay the bills in your place of origin and hope that the deadbeat you are subletting your apartment to doesn’t chew through the wires. The Slingbox software is now available on the iPad.
Others solutions searching for TV content will find you at peer-to-peer services, using applications like VUZE (http://www.vuze.com/). This program allows you to search bit torrent search engines that carry many of the programs you might watch however ensure that you only download from official sources otherwise you will be illegally downloading. In your search for online TV content you will also most likely come across sites such as EZTV (http://eztv.it), however you should be aware that these sites are more often than not “illegal.”
Other places to find programming you might want – youtube.com and iTunes. YouTube is free but tends to remove unlicensed content when it finds it. On iTunes, you have to pay (usually $1.99/show but you get to keep the bought shows on your computer for watching over and over).
Overall, be advised that much of online TV viewing is still seen as a grey area and many of the seemingly official services are challenging historical issues raised by the TV stations and corporations in court. The Internet is still quite often like the Wild West, with options changing daily and laws often unclear and impossible to keep up with or enforce. Options like proxies and VPNs can allow your PC to seem as if it is in the host country, however even as a UK license payer using a VPN/ Proxy to view the BBC out of the UK you will struggle to find a ruling on if this is considered legal by the BBC even if it technically should be under EU law.
An overview of some online programming options:
BBC iPlayer (www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/tv) – offers BBC fare, some live streaming and back catalogue.
ITV (www.itv.com/itvplayer) – UK’S programming from ITV – shows like Celebrity Juice and X Factor among other classics.
4 on Demand (www.channel4.com/programmes/4od) – UK’s Channel 4 programming. Offers back catalogue of shows but no live streaming.
TVCatchup (tvcatchup.com) – carries a large selection of ad-supported UK programming and works on the iPhone. It vigorously upholds UK TV licensing and blocks VPN´s that specialize/ focus on providing VPN services to people abroad.
Zattoo (zattoo.com) – a free service with some programming from Switzerland, Denmark, Spain, Germany, France, Norway, and UK. It’s been having to fight various big programming gorillas (like BBC) but might still have some shows you’re looking for.
Hulu (hulu.com) – streams programming from US networks – ABC, NBC, FOX and a host of other channels like Current TV, PBS, USA Network, Bravo, E! and others. Here you can find many popular shows like 30 Rock, Grey’s Anatomy, Glee, Modern Family, Simpsons as well as many feature films.
Seesaw (seesaw.com) – carries a selection of (free) programming from the UK and US, including some shows from BBC Worldwide, Channel 4, ITV, MTV and NBC.
ESPN 3 (espn.go.com/espn3) – live US sports.
CBC (www.cbc.ca/video/) – Canadian TV shows and sports.
Adthe.net (adthe.net) – this site offers many live streaming channels (not always in the best quality, but it may work for you if a sudden need arises to watch a US football match or a TV show broadcasting in real-time). The site mostly focuses on US channels, but also has a few international selections (Russia, Italy, UK). It’s unclear whether this site is always staying within legal boundaries (the same can be said for similar sites like Justin.TV or USStream.tv).
Netflix (netflix.com) – a US subscription service that has an amazing catalogue of TV shows and movies you can stream right to your computer or onto a gaming console. Not the place to watch last night’s episode of your favorite show, but a great site to start on the first couple of seasons of “Dexter”.
Note: Expats.cz does not condone in any way downloading unlicensed content or any activity outside of the law.