Watching UK TV abroad used to be easy. All you needed was a VPN or SmartDNS software and you were all set. Sadly, those days are over. If you want to watch UK TV abroad now, you need to choose your VPN with a little more care.
To cut a long, and complex story, short. BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4oD, Sky Go and BT Sport have all banned VPNs from accessing content for rights reasons. This is because international viewers who used a VPN to watch streams from another country, causing big problems international licensing. The end result is an international blockade on VPNs.
We’ve covered this subject quite a lot here at ReviewsFire. Here’s a list of our other ‘How to watch UK TV abroad articles’.
- How to watch BBC iPlayer abroad
- How to watch ITV Hub abroad
- How to watch 4oD Abroad
- How to watch Sky Go abroad
- How to watch BT Sport abroad
- How to watch US Netflix in the UK
How to watch UK TV abroad
If you want to watch UK TV abroad, you’re going to need a VPN that hasn’t been blacklisted by BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub (et al). And there are only a handful of these VPNs left. Fortunately, these VPNs don’t seem to be going shying away from the challenge either.
Below is a list of the three best VPNs for international TV streaming.
These providers play a game of Cat and Mouse to prevent BBC iPlayer (and other UK TV channels) detecting their VPN connection. This means when one of their servers/IPs is detected and blacklisted, they respond by shutting that virtual server down and replacing it with a fresh (undetected server).
Why you should use ExpressVPN…
From my experience, as an ex-pat living in New Zealand, ExpressVPN is the best VPN for watching British TV. It has 500+ servers in the UK and it has a full-time technical team that monitors each connection to popular UK channels.
To watch BBC iPlayer, or any UK channel, from overseas, all you need to do is open the ExpressVPN app and select Quick Connect to a UK server. From there the ExpressVPN app will automatically connect you to the fastest server with the fewest number of shared connections.
The number of simultaneous connections to each server is automatically restricted by ExpressVPN. If, for example, UK server #1 has 6 simultaneous connections and the other 499+ servers have <5, the ExpressVPN app will make server #1 unavailable to new connections.
This simple user-management technique, along with 500+ servers, allows ExpressVPN to keep its servers/IPs from being detected by BBC iPlayer (et al) for abnormal usage in the first place.
I’ve been using ExpressVPN (£5.13/month) to watch BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4oD, BT Sport and Sky Go since March without any problems. NordVPN has easy-to-use available available on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. Connecting to a UK server takes less than 30 seconds.
ExpressVPN plays Cat and Mouse in a slightly different way. Both services still replace their blacklisted IPs as soon as they’re detected. However, they rely on automated software to prevent detection in the first place.
ExpressVPN only gives customers a choice of two server locations to connect to – usually London Docklands or East London. ExpressVPN has hundreds of UK servers – this allows ExpressVPN to manage the manage the number of simultaneous connections it has on each server.
By keeping control of which servers users connect to, ExpressVPN can automatically keep the number of connections beneath the known “blacklist” threshold of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4oD, Sky Go and BT Sport (etc).
Why do broadcasters block VPNs?
Pre 2016 you could install any VPN and unlock UK TV from anywhere in the world. This all changed when Netflix announced it would start banning VPNs from accessing its content. This prompted UK streaming services (BBC, ITV, 4oD, Sky and BT) to follow suit.
The reason for the ban is fair enough. The number of people using VPNs to bypass geo-blocked content soared pre-2016. And this caused problems with international TV licenses.
How do broadcasters detect VPNs?
The way broadcasters detect and block VPNs is pretty simple.
The average BBC iPlayer user will come from a domestic connection in the UK. This means they’re coming from a house that has 1-6 people in it. On average. This creates the potential for six simultaneous connections to BBC iPlayer at any single time.
The level of traffic from a VPN server’s IP address will look very different. VPNs can have millions of users and the best VPNs only have 500+ servers in the UK. This creates the potential for thousands of users to connect to iPlayer from each server.
When the BBC detects an abnormal number of connections coming from the same IP it reacts by blacklisted that address.
You also need to make sure your VPN is watertight. Lots of cheap VPNs suffer problems with IP, DNS, WebRTC leaks. If this is happening to your then you need to switch VPNs immediately as the leaks mean the VPN isn’t hiding your location.
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Read next: How to listen to BBC Radio abroad.