I heard this rumour in a small bar in the Turkish town of Fethiye last weekend. It caused some initial worry, especially as the bar was largely full of British expats who are found in large numbers all along the south west coast of Turkey. Fortunately this rumour has been going around for a couple of years now, and although not entirely without some merit is not exactly true.
It is true, that about two years ago the BBC started looking very seriously at the numbers of people who are now watching the BBC iPlayer and the live channels from outside the UK. We’re not talking about a few thousand of clever technical geeks but literally millions of people. The VPN services that are available now are so easy to use that anyone can set one up, click a button and be watching the BBC and all the other UK TV channels from anywhere in the world. The reality is that millions of people were doing this from all over the planet, many estimates suggest that there were more people watching the BBC from outside the UK than within it!
There are families all over the place who’s prime entertainment package revolves around the BBC. It makes sense when you see the depth and quality of programmes available, why pay for expensive cable subscriptions when you can get all sorts of programmes from the BBC for the price of a simple VPN service. What’s more the best services also opened up free broadcasting from lots of other sources too, even in the UK there are a host of other channels like ITV, Channels 4 and 5 all available for free. You could even watch US, Canadian and Australian broadcasts too plus iof you could speak other languages there were lots of other options as well.
The BBC under financial pressure and with plans to launch their own paid streaming service such as Britbox wanted to limit these outside UK viewers. They had already previously blocked the use of simple proxies which at least meant that all free versions of circumvention were closed. However preventing VPN access is somewhat more challenging as a VPN connection is much harder to identify than a proxy connection. Indeed it’s actually very difficult and even the Chinese who throw huge amounts of resources at blocking the use of VPNs haven’t managed it completely. The BBC decided to take a pragmatic approach in trying to ‘thin the herd somewhat’.
It’s Not True that the BBC iPlayer VPN no Longer Works
Before we explain how it’s done, first here’s the proof that you can still use a VPN to watch the BBC.
This video was recorded at the beginning of April 2019, as you can probably see from the news events on the International version page. You can hopefully see in the demonstration that there is no issue with the VPN I have been using for over a decade – Identity Cloaker
Many thousands of people did lose their access though and still do although less infrequently recently. What happened was that although the BBC wasn’t able to reliably identify the use of VPNs it was able to make educated guesses. For example if they saw thousands of people connecting through the same iP address concurrently over a period of time then it was very likely it was the IP address of a VPN server. UK users would generally have their own individual address, so there was a high probability that it was non-UK users from Spain or France for example who were connecting.
When an IP address was highlighted it’s relatively simple to just add it to a blacklist and block access for anyone using it. What’s more many of these addresses were in specific ranges so in fact lots of them could be blocked en mass. The other tactic was to actually identify the many companies who were actively promoting VPN to watch TV from. Some even had BBC logos plastered all over their websites. A few legal letters would follow and the company would either close down or be kicked off their hosting servers.
These methods although not perfect were pursued pretty aggressively by the BBC for at least twelve months and to a lesser extent since. The result was that hundreds of TV watching VPN services were disconnected most of which then closed down. This led to the false claims by many that all VPN services were now blocked and it was no longer a viable method for watching the BBC abroad.
Fortunately the massive effort required to identify and block these services wasn’t maintained completely. Although the BBC still actively pursue these services they mainly look at those which overly promote or advertise on things like Google Adwords. Most of the long term companies in this industry keep a low profile and never directly refer to the ability to watch specific TV stations.
So VPN services still work perfectly well to bypass the BBC’s content restrictions as long as you pick a decent service. What’s more they still work for all the other UK TV channels too including ITV Hub which is well worth watching too.
There are several VPN services which have been working for many years and there’s no expectation that this will change in the forseeable future.
Here’s my recommendation which I have been using now since 2018.