Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 17, 2013
BBC iPlayer for iOS

I don't really like watching real TV any more. Having to watch at a specific time, and then getting interrupted by advertising breaks isn't comfortable enough for me. And I also like to be able to watch several episodes of the same show one after another, instead of waiting a week for the next one. In consequence I have a huge collection of TV shows on DVD, which suit me a lot better than live TV. But as I watch most shows only once, a TV on demand service streamed from the internet would suit me even better. Unfortunately the majority of the TV on demand services decided to deny me access because I live in a different country. Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, you name it, I haven't got it. Living in Belgium I have access to services like Belgacom TV, but that only has movies, and most of them in French or Dutch, not English.

The one notable exception from this is the BBC iPlayer for iOS. Not to be confused with the BBC iPlayer you can access via your browser, because that one only works if you live in the UK. The iOS version requires a subscription, which I picked up at a discount this summer for 50€ for a whole year, which is well worth it. Since then I have spent less time playing games, and more time watching TV on demand from the BBC.

Now the BBC iPlayer isn't perfect. The iOS version doesn't have subtitles, which is weird: The UK-only internet version of the iPlayer *does* have subtitles, but the international version doesn't. Not that I would want to deny the hearing impaired citizens of the UK their subtitles, but I suspect there are a lot more people that don't speak English natively outside the UK who would appreciate English subtitles for BBC programs. Especially if the program features speakers from UK regions with strong accents.

The other flaw of the BBC iPlayer is that the offer isn't complete. For example I was able to watch 19 episodes of Dalziel & Pascoe on the iPlayer, but there are another 27 episodes that aren't available. As the series stopped in 2007, and it is the later episodes that are mostly missing, it is hard to understand that selection. For some shows even very old episodes are available, I watched the very first Dr. Who from 1963, but for example for Top Gear the first seasons available are 6 and 8, in spite of that show being much more recent. (That is Top Gear UK. Top Gear USA is also on the iPlayer, but frankly it is a rather bad copy which lacks the personality of the original.)

Nevertheless overall the BBC iPlayer is very good, and good value for money. BBC series on DVD are comparatively expensive, because often one season only has between 3 and 6 episodes, and sells for about the same price as an US series with 12 to 24 episodes. And even if the DVDs are reasonably priced, e.g. a season of Top Gear for between 8 and 12£, getting access to 15 seasons for €50 for a year is much cheaper.

The BBC is making some good programs, with everything from cop shows to excellent documentaries on offer. But obviously on the BBC iPlayer you *only* get BBC programs. Thus I would be very much in the market for a TV on demand service which would let me watch American TV shows. Again my interests are wide, I like several of the show on Discovery or the History Channel, like Mythbusters, Pawn Stars, or Storage Wars, but also HBO programs like The Wire, or Boardwalk Empire, or many of the police procedural shows on other TV chains, e.g. CSI. $79 for an annual membership to Amazon Prime Instant Video? Sign me up! Except that Amazon won't let me do that. Nor apparently will anybody else. I would have to pretend to live in the USA and hope that some complicated deception using fake IP addresses would give me access, but as Amazon already knows where I live and getting a fake mailing address with credit card attached is probably illegal, I don't want to try. So the only thing I can do is waiting for the TV on demand services to expand their offering to different countries. Which apparently isn't a technical problem, but a legal one. So to borrow a phrase from Top Gear: "How hard can it be?"

Have you tried Sky Go Abroad?

I have not tried it but it appears to include Sky Atlantic (Game of Thrones - Broadwalk Empire etc...)
I use this:
Isn't Netflix due to launch in Belgium soon? It isn't perfect, no HBO stuff and mainly older shows but there are lots of very good series on there and Netflix Europe has a lot of good BBC shows if that is your thing. Unblock_US as mentioned by RTHC works seemlessly with Netflix allowing you to choose your viewing region and Netflix tolerates this. You don't need to spoof a US credit card address or do anything obviously illegal.

My only personal gripe is that Netflix's discovery tools are awful. Rather than give you easily searchable lists they try to predict what you want to watch from past viewing. "Because you watched "Silence of the Lambs we think you would enjoy this selection of documentaries about deaf sheep farmers". I hate this and often resort to third party search tools to choose what I want to watch for myself.
This is what you get for your crusade against piracy. Clearly the services you mention are not available in Belgium because someone has "exclusive rights to intellectual property" and abuses them, even against his own financial interests.

I might also add that a sensible person would get the missing episodes from torrents long ago and won't have to whine on blog about life being unfair. ;-)
We wouldn't need to crusade against piracy if there wasn't piracy.
Clearly piracy is the reason why these services are NOT available. Even the BBC iPlayer on the iPad doesn't work in countries reputed to have lots of piracy, like Russia.
Tobold, are you implying that Belgium has the piracy situation as bad as Russia?

It seems IIPA thinks otherwise: Belgium isn't even in top 40 countries while US is #1 and UK is #5 (see

It looks like pirate-baron countries deny Belgium access on the grounds of fighting piracy.

Also, if you as IP owner do not allow your content to be available in some country, this guarantees that this content will be 100% pirated in that country. On the other hand, if you do allow the access, you will have SOME legitimate sales and revenue.

Of course, there is always a cost of entry, but just how large is it for digital distribution?
Wow you voluntarily pay for the BBC? Like many in the UK I don't watch it but am forced to pay for it under threat of jail.

Pity they don't make it a voluntary subscription service here.
Clearly piracy is the reason why these services are NOT available. Even the BBC iPlayer on the iPad doesn't work in countries reputed to have lots of piracy, like Russia.

For software, yes, you could argue that this is the case. However, when it comes to TV and movies, the lack of broadcasts in some areas is what will mostly drive people to pirate/stream the shows.

People want to see the new "hotness" NOW, while there is still a buzz around it, since everyone else in their circles seems to be watching it as well. People will talk about rheir favotire TV series/K-drama/anime with their friends, and the peer preasure is such that a lot of people will want to see those shows while they are current.

It took over 3 years to bring Season 1 of Game of Thrones to television, where I live. For those years the only alternative was to pirate the show (no streaming and downloading services like Netflix or whatever here as well)and I honestly think that the series will not produce serious ratings. Those who wanted to see it, have already gone ahead and downloaded it.
Clearly piracy is the reason why these services are NOT available.

Do you actually think this is true? That the threat/existance of piracy is the reason for the non-existance of legal alternatives in countries like Belgium oder Germany?
@bryksom: Yes I do. Just consider the fact that the BBC is perfectly willing to sell me access to their content on the iPad, which is a closed platform on which piracy is hard, but is not willing to sell me exactly the same content on the PC, where I could capture the stream easily and pirate it.
The Internet is a fact and no amount of DRM is going to stop material getting pirated. Not your ipad or anything else.

And that comic isn't even thinking about fans in other countries where the first legal way to watch shows in English is importing the US dvds which come out a year after shows air.

HBO and all the others could make so much money selling HBO-Go outside the US, but 99% of the content industry isn't even trying to offer legal alternatives to piracy.
Thanks for the article Tobold. For those who live outside UK and want to access BBC iPlayer, you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.
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