How to Watch BBC Shows in the US – British TV Channels Anywhere


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One of the biggest things that many of us have to get used to in the USA is the number of adverts on television.  If you’ve come from the UK for instance, they can come as something of a shock although many European countries actually have more adverts.  First of all, you should remember that the advertising is what actually pays for US TV shows, so if the level drops it’s likely the quality of programming would to.  However for anyone who has seen the quantity of adverts rise over the last few decades it can be quite surprising.   Even BBC America, which is the US based channel which carries some of the BBC’s content has adverts which seems strange to anyone used to watching BBC One.

Of course, most US citizens have grown up with adverts on TV so it’s likely they don’t find them as intrusive.  Also bear in mind if you offered the UK model of TV – paying $200+ for a license which removed the need for them – most would probably be completely horrified.  This is based on an extensive straw poll of five people I asked in my office today!  I found that extremely surprising as it’s a cost I’d be happy to pay.  I don’t know about you, but that cut to adverts just at a crucial time in the plotline drives me crazy ! I do get frustrated watching shows which suddenly stop for breaks several times an hour – although obviously today’s technology which allows you to record and playback helps a lot.

How to Watch BBC Shows in the US

The number of adverts is also increasing, the approximate proportion of advertising in US TV in 1952 was about 13%, that’s about 8 minutes an hour.  However research has shown that in 2020 that has now risen to something like 32% which is nearly a third of the airtime (20 minutes an hour).  These figures are an average though and some popular or expensive shows will be much higher than this figure as well.

This figure also doesn’t include the increasing use of product placement advertising where you’ll see some character waving around a soft drink or other product.  This can also be very distracting when you start looking for it, although I’m assured by a Spanish friend that this practice is increasing in TV channels across the world.

If you can’t get use to the adverts of course you do have some options.  The obvious one and a tactic used by many Americans is simply to not watch any of the shows live.  There’s plenty of  media players which have hard disks – Tivo Style which can record shows.  Then you can replay and skip through each advertising break without having to actually watch them.  However it’s still a break and it’s still rather annoying to have to skim through the adverts even at super fast speed.

Expand Your Choice of Television Shows by Looking Online

However there’s another option which is particularly attractive and that’s to start looking online. Virtually every major media channel in existence broadcast lots of their shows online. You don’t have to just use cable, satellite or the outdated TV aerial in order to receive TV channels. If you’ve got an internet enabled TV, a laptop, or tablet or even games consoles and a decent internet connection then you’ve got the potential to watch unlimited TV programmes online and streamed to your TV screen. There’s all you need from current affairs, documentaries, soap operas, crime drama, radio shows and even free movies available if you know where to look.
Here’s one the BBC’s latest nature shows, critically acclaimed through the world and available on BBC iPlayer for free !

In fact it’s an option that millions already use including lots of expats and anglophiles. A great place to start for free online TV of world class quality is to check out the UK television you can find streaming online. The first channel to look at is the BBC who have probably the best streaming platform on the internet – BBC iPlayer.   It’s packed full of great British television which doesn’t have any advertisements or breaks at all.  That’s not quite true, it does do a very small number of  promotional clips for other BBC programmes you might like but they’re never in the middle of anything and they’re easily skipped if you like.

What’s more the BBC is only the start and you can actually find lots of other television shows online too.  Even from the UK every single one of the major broadcasters streams all their content online.  The BBC is the only channel which doesn’t include advertisements but even then it’s a small price to pay for world class entertainment streamed in high definition to your TV set across the internet.

Don’t worry about any potential problems you might have heard about like needing  a TV license, geo restrictions or other  things to stop people outside the UK accessing these live stream goldmines – they’re no real problem for anyone.   Just read on and you’ll find out not only how to watch all the British TV you want free of charge but unlimited shows from all over the world – even for the English speaking world there’s stations from Australia, Canada, US and the UK.  If you’re lucky enough to speak another language there’s even more options available too.

How to Get British TV Channels like BBC One Online in the USA

Now as mentioned virtually every large media site in the world broadcasts over the internet.  Indeed, most of the UK ones broadcast all their programmes live then archive them so you can watch them later too.  Sites like the BBC iPlayer archive have literally thousands of top quality shows which you can watch online or even download to watch later.  You can watch any of the shows live while they’re broadcast on any of the channels plus from the archive where most are available for twelve months too.

Here’s a quick list of the channels available from the BBC –

  • BBC One – the original and primary BBC channel
  • BBC Two – more for current affairs and sport coverage
  • BBC Three – Digital channel with light entertainment such as comedies, videos and documentaries
  • BBC Four – Serious shows and documentaries
  • CBBC – children over the age of 6
  • CBeebies – children under age of 6
  • BBC Scotland – Scottish focused channel
  • BBC Alba – Gaelic Language channel
  • BBC News  – 24/7 international news channel
  • BBC Parliament – coverage of UK politics
  • S4C – Welsh language channel

However there is a catch, all these shows, all this free TV is only available to the domestic market and it’s not actually directly accessible in the USA or anywhere outside the UK.   Although it should be pointed out that the same happens in reverse as US online TV stations like Hulu and HBO are not available outside the US also.

Using a VPN or Proxy Services to Access Streaming Platforms like the BBC

Yet there is a work around, and it’s one that millions of people all over the world use every day.  To watch British TV online or indeed any domestic streaming service from the USA you simply need to hide  your IP address and present a UK one instead.   It’s not difficult and anyone can do it from whatever device they prefer, indeed millions enjoy BBC worldwide using this exact same method.

Here’s how it’s done –

What happens is by using a VPN or proxy server then you can effectively hide your true location.  So when you visit the BBC website for example, it will see the IP address of the server not your real address.  So as long as you ensure you click on a UK server then everything in the UK will work perfectly irrespective of where you actually are.   Your location is completely hidden and so you can watch whatever you like from all the British TV channels.  This includes all the major channels like BBC, ITV and Channels 4 and 5 all of whom have a streaming service which includes most of their shows online.

Basically you get virtually all UK TV shows completely free of charge by just pretending to be in the UK.  The amount of content is incredible, even if you just watch BBC iPlayer itself.   You’ll certainly have access to many, many more shows than a BBC America channel for example.  All of the popular UK TV channels are available to stream live so you can pick what you want to watch.  However it’s all archived too, so that latest Dr Who series for example is available for twelve months after it’s initial broadcast too, just access BBC iPlayer when you want to watch it.

A  VPN service (virtual private network) is without doubt a must have tool for anyone who spends a lot of time online especially if they travel a lot.  Not only does it secure your internet connection allowing you to safely access things like email, banking and payment sites when you’re using insecure Wifi at hotels, cafes and airports.  It also allows you to change your location and watch iPlayer or perhaps even sites you can usually use but you’re locked out of because you’re travelling.

I used to get locked out of several payment portals when I worked abroad.  I’d try and pay my taxes or water rates over the internet and get blocked because I was in a different country – very annoying!  Of course, now I know I just need to use a VPN to change my country, unfortunately I didn’t know that then.

So remember, you’re not restricted to a specific country.  Choose a server in a different country then you can unlock the channels there too.  So for example if you pick an Irish one you can enjoy the Irish National broadcaster RTE or perhaps choose some Canadian or French channels too.  Remember though while you are connected to another country then US sites will start blocking you, so remember to disconnect or choose a US server for those.   A couple of years ago I watched the entire Premiership (UK football) season by uisng a VPN based in India to watch on a channel called Star TV absolutely free.  I think you now have to pay for their subscription service but it’s still a fraction of what it costs in other countries.  Just connect to an Indian VPN before you sign up so that you get charged Indian prices !

The possibilities are endless, but even if you only use your VPN services to watch the BBC worldwide from wherever you happen to be it will bring you some of the best TV programs available.  Just fire up your connection, connect to a UK VPN server and click ‘yes’ when they ask you if you have a TV license and you’ll be enjoying the BBC with over 60 million other people.  Our recommendation for a low cost, reliable VPN provider is NordVPN.

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