There seems to be a permanent battle between the big media companies and the many VPN/proxy companies who allow people to bypass the region locking they operate. For example, although technically you’ll find that the BBC iPlayer abroad is blocked – in reality a huge proportion of their viewers watch from outside the UK. The BBC has been half heartedly restricting access to their online services for many years. In fact they estimated themselves that over 60 million people were watching the BBC from outside the UK in 2015. However there was never any real attempt to reduce the millions of people who had access from across the world. For instance, the technology has been available to detect and block simple proxies for many years but the BBC has never implemented this on their servers previously.
This changed last year when the BBC upped their game in restricting access to non-UK based individuals. First went the proxies, instantly the cheapest method of accessing the BBC iPlayer abroad by using a simple proxy server disappeared. They introduced the technology to detect and block access from proxies automatically, something that the likes of Hulu and Netflix had been doing for several years. The next stage was tackling the more advanced VPN/SSH services which are much more difficult to detect. Blocking these is more difficult, usually involving identifying IP address ranges which are supporting multiple connections and then restricting access individually.
The final method was to target the companies directly, so any VPN service which advertised accessing the BBC from abroad would be contacted by the BBC legal department. Most would close down their services rather than risk legal action, plus many were given notice by the datacenter companies who hosted these servers for similar reasons. A huge number of the overt VPN companies ended up being blocked by one of these methods – some have estimated that up to 90% of VPN providers no longer have access to the BBC UK servers.
Fortunately there is hope, a large section of the VPN companies were able to avoid these blocks. Here’s what you need to look out for to identify a VPN service which does work for accessing the BBC iPlayer abroad.
- Low Key – make sure the service you use doesn’t mention the BBC directly or use any of it’s logos in advertising.
- VPN/Security Service – all the surviving companies are primarily security services selling their VPN as privacy and security programs.
- Multiple Countries and Servers – the ability to swap through ranges of IP addresses is crucial, this ensures the BBC cannot blacklist their servers individually.
It’s unclear whether the BBC will continue to escalate these restrictions, certainly it made a huge effort during 2016. However there are signs that this is not going to be maintained completely. Certainly it looks like the game is up for proxies, the BBC was the last major media company to allow these and that looks unlikely to be rolled back. However most of the remaining VPN providers have the ability to switch out their IP address ranges very easily so it’s difficult to maintain a complete block on these. Certainly companies like Hulu have tried for years and failed to restrict them completely.
There are other options which the BBC could do to enforce their UK only viewing strategy. For instance, implementing some sort of login system based on purchasing a TV license could be a possibility. Lots of companies in Canada and the US require a cable reference number before you can watch online for example. This would be a huge undertaking for the BBC however one it was likely to implement before Brexit. The European Union is trying to establish a single digital market where digital goods can be sold equally across the EU. This would technically would also incorporate services like watching the BBC online outside the UK. It’s unclear how the UK’s leaving the European Union will affect this situation though.
At the time of writing, . is still working perfectly with the BBC iPlayer abroad and in fact all the major media sites.