Streaming International Television (over VPN)

Each time Last100 covers the BBC’s iPlayer I get fired up. Why wait a year for BBC America or DVD for compelling content out of the UK? Of course, the easiest way to catch international television online is by finding (or providing) a friend with a Slingbox.

Warning: Über-geeky networking content follows.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume we don’t have any overseas pals. Most streaming websites (Hulu, BBC, etc) selectively permit access to a range of IP addresses based on geographic location. i.e. US addresses can view Hulu, European addresses cannot. Back in my old information assurance days, we occasionally applied geo blocking – but like these video destinations, it’s not a true security measure, it’s meant to be a deterrent.

Two ways to bypass this barrier involve bouncing web traffic through a proxy or tunneling directly through a VPN. Again, it helps to have friends in your target country. However, there are often open, freely available proxy servers floating around out there on the interwebs. Finding them requires some Googling and you can expect proxies to vanish as quickly as new ones turn up – though strained server performance is often subpar. Regarding VPNs, it appears a niche business has popped up facilitating these sorts of activities. Prices and bandwidth vary and, in my brief research, all appeared sketchy. So I overpaid (£10.00 GBP) for a service that uses PayPal, in lieu of giving up my credit card and billing information. Interestingly, the VPN details are buried in a connection executable – meaning, without more work, my iPlayer experimentation has been limited to Windows. If I were more motivated, I could probably sniff the details I need or use a hex editor to retrieve them – allowing me to utilize this connection information within OS X and/or on the iPhone, which had been my original target.

As it turns out, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to Steve‘s articles. Unlike the US-based Hulu, BBC iPlayer is a “catch up” service – only offering the last 7 days of broadcast content, versus many episodes covering many years. And, thus, my motivation has waned and I’m allowing my UK VPN subscription to lapse.

11 thoughts on “Streaming International Television (over VPN)”

  1. Channel 4 (UK) has a load of content too, plus a large back catalogue of programs.
    I’m looking for a similar method myself, but in a reverse situation, folks live abroad and miss BBC/C4 tv. I’m working with 2 routers + Tomato Firmware to automatically route traffic over a VPN to UK for sites with restricted access.

  2. Hey, this is great — but is there a way to set up a VPN so a Tivo in Europe could talk to a tivo back in the US (both on the same account, obviously) so they could transfer programs. Yes, I know Sling can do the same thing — but $500 for a SlingBox and Sling Catcher seem a bit expensive to do the same thing.

  3. Charlie, yeah you could do it – in this case you really would need a friend, and a tech savvy one at that. You need to set up the tunnel, and do it in such a way that only the TiVo traffic is routed through it. So, yeah you should be able spoof being on the same physical LAN but it’d be a PITA. And given how slooooow TiVos send/receive data, you’d be better off finding alternate means.

    I wonder if it’d be easier to punch a hole through the firewall and download a show to PC, which you then upload up to the other TiVo. That might be simpler to accomplish. I wrote this up maybe 3 years ago, but assume it still works and gets you started in the right direction.

    Of course all of this may be enough to send someone to BitTorrent.

  4. @Todd

    VLC? Sorry, don’t get it.


    thanks. the link is very helpful. Yeah, your suggestion is spot on — it is probably easier that way. I’m thinking the new Tivo PC client might also be a good way to go, although the reviews say its transferring is even slower than a Tivos.

  5. For those interested in german TV:

    It lets you record anything from the program guide, then view it later, records up to 10 programs simultaneously. No geographic blocking; I qualified with my US driver’s license :-)

  6. Some of these UK-based VPN services work really well and they’re getting to be very affordable. Mine cost £50 for a year and works for iPlayer and all UK TV streams. It works on my PC and iPhone (which is really cool and blows most other iPhone apps out the water). Also works for Mac (though I can’t test this).
    No point recommending any particular service, this space is evolving quickly and I think they are all pretty much the same; but google UK VPN and pick the best price that works for your OS / phone (then google the product and look for good feedback).

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