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Why Can’t I Watch the BBC Online Abroad?

It’s often a shock, after all why offer an online version of the BBC and then block anyone who isn’t in the UK. But for many trying to access BBC Iplayer when they’re abroad becomes a bit of a challenge, you know it’s possible but connecting up can be difficult. The search usually leads to things like VPNs and proxies, which for anyone living abroad are now essential – they basically give you access to all the best media sites online – irrespective of your location and IP address.   So when the BBC, Hulu, ABC or M6 Replay checks your location and IP address and then decide what you can see – the proxy or VPN just tells them what they need to see – and allows you access.

For instance, I was recently in Spain with my work and got kinda bored staying in a hotel.  So decided to watch some UK television online using my laptop.  Unfortunately I then discovered that because I then had a Spanish IP address (from the hotels Wifi),  I was now blocked from all the best UK websites like the BBC Iplayer and ITV etc.  It was kind of annoying until I discovered there was a solution and an easy one at that.

By the way if you don’t know why people are so keen to get access to BBC Iplayer – you should really check it out.  It’s without doubt one of the best media resources available online, in fact I don’t think anything comes close although there are some excellent US sites like Hulu and Pandora for music.

Anyway for those of us who either live or travel abroad a lot, having access to these sites is a godsend.  You don’t have to sit watching a TV show in a language you don’t understand or some awful cable channel.

So What is the Solution to Watching BBC IPlayer Abroad?

Basically the problem is your IP address,  everyone is linked to a specific country and it’s very easy to look up.  Many websites look your location up as soon as you access their site, they then tailor what you can see based on that information.  It’s called Geotargeting and frankly it’s extremely annoying – you’ll normally get an error message like the image below.

Or perhaps this one if you try and access Pandora outside the US.

pandora blocked

The way around it is quite simple, you just have to make the website think your in a different country by using an IP address from the required country.  Unfortunately you can’t modify your own address easily as this is assigned by your ISP.  However you can connect via a proxy server based in the correct country and use it’s address.

So for example to watch BBC Iplayer outside the UK you’d connect through a UK proxy.  If you wanted to watch Hulu from outside the US then you’d need a proxy based in the USA, Pandora needs an American one too and so on.

It’s really  that simple – the website sees the IP address of the proxy server and not your real one.   This short video shows the steps –

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Where do I get a Proxy Server to Watch Iplayer or Hulu?

There’s a few options depending on time and budget.  You can find some free ones online if you search – however it takes a long time to find one in the right country and fast enough to relay video through.  In reality you’ll be best to settle on one of the many services that are available.  A commercial service should be plenty fast enough and you know it will always be working when you want to watch something.

The one I use is Identity Cloaker which has been around for many years – it’s way better than any of the TV watching services and does much more. Try the trial first if you are unsure to test it out –
Identity Cloaker 10 day trial – it gives you access to all the top media sites in UK, USA, France, Canada and Germany to name only a few.

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The Truth About Proxies

If you search on the internet you’ll find many proxy sites including plenty of USA based proxies – usually they consist of loads of adverts and a little slot in the middle of the page where you type the website you want.

These sites promise you the following –

  • security
  • anonymity
  • ability to bypass firewalls
  • ability to bypass content filters

In reality you’ll normally get none of these although to be fair there are some benefits.  Here’s the truth about these proxies and the claimed benefits to help you make your own decision.

Security

If you’re really concerned about security and your privacy then the answer is don’t use these websites.  certainly never use them to access any site that requires passwords or personal credentials.  These sites normally are set up quickly and easily using a proxy software called Glype.  This is simply installed on some cheap or free hosting account and surrounded by adverts in an attempt to make money.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with that but be aware the server is not secured, they are also not highly anonymous and there will be no mention of what happens to the logs and you are trusting that website with whatever data you send through it.  In reality all you are doing is adding another risk to your browsing.  There are some malicious web sites which exist just to steal any credentials that are sent through it.

Anonymity

The claim for anonymity for these sites can be partially true if they are configured correctly.  What they can protect from is the web site you are visiting storing your IP address in it’s logs.     The main problem with trying to stay anonymous on the web is two fold – firstly your browsing is logged in its entirety at your ISP, secondly it’s all in clear text so is readable by anyone.

The proxies will sometimes stop your IP address being logged at the web site you visit – that’s it.  But in exchange it will be logged on their server which may well be run by a 16 year old in his spare time.

Using Proxies to Bypass Firewalls

This can work in a particularly lax environment but in those cases you probably won’t need a proxy server!   If the firewall just blocks access to specific IP addresses or URLs then this might work.  However most environments are rather more sophisticated than that.  Also the majority of web proxy sites are themselves blocked anyway.  They can be useful in countries with basic blocks on popular sites like Facebook and YouTube for example.

Using Proxies to Bypass Content Filters

This is a complete non starter as no web proxy will have the slightest effect here.  The problem is that although a content filter also looks for specific web sites, IP addresses and content to block it actually looks at the request itself.  Most filters look inside the packet themselves so proxies will have no effect whatsoever apart from getting you flagged by the IT Admins for trying to circumvent any restrictions.  There is only one way to bypass a sophisticated content filter and that’s to use a concealed proxy server plus encrypt all your data.   The encryption means that the content filter can’t look inside the packet and work out the destination. So if you don’t want to have every thing you do online logged and recorded by your ISP and/or employer then encryption is a must. It’s often used when people access pornography online – particularly popular in the middle East where a porn proxy are standard because of the various blocks implemented by the Governments.

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