Black Friday

BBC iPlayer Blocks VPN Users

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

October 22, 2015

The BBC is known throughout the world for its high-quality programming, which is made available for free to UK residents for 30 days after it broadcast on its online catch-up service, BBC iPlayer.

Any UK resident who wishes to watch live TV (on any channel, not just BBC) is legally required to pay an annual licence fee of £145 GBP (approx. $225 USD) for a color licence. Those only watching recorded content via streaming servings such iPlayer (or other non-live viewing methods) do not have to buy a TV licence. The BBC also sells its content abroad under licence.

The result is that only UK residents are permitted to watch BBC iPlayer (at least in theory). Unsurprisingly, however, many international viewers evade this restriction so they can watch high programming for free using geo-spoofing services such as VPN.

The BBC has now moved to prevent VPN users accessing the iPlayer service,

You may also see this message if you are attempting to access iPlayer via a VPN (virtual private network), as we are not able to discriminate between a UK-based user of a public VPN service and a user of that same service based outside the UK.

iPlayer VPN

As with Hulu Plus, it seems the method used to block VPN users is to simply block IP addresses belonging to an identified list of VPN services, such as IPVanish and TorGuard.

This means that the VPN block can be evaded using less well-known VPN providers (my AirVPN service still works, for example), or by blocked VPN providers regularly recycling their IP addresses. As CEO of TorGuard, Ben van der Pelt, observed,

Let the game of whack-an-IP begin.”

The move has raised the ire of privacy advocates, who note that licence fee paying UK residents who use VPN, not evade geo-restrictions, but to improve their privacy and security, are also blocked while connected to their VPN service.

These argue that the BBC’s new policy compromises legitimate viewers’ privacy by forcing them to disconnect their VPNs in order to watch iPlayer. As a TorGuard blog post notes,

The nuke approach is also hitting all users of BBC that are using VPN software. That means that BBC is forcing its users within the UK to decide if they want the security of a VPN or the access of iPlayer.”

While we hope that VPN providers will stay ahead of the game in ensuring that their customers can continue access iPlayer, it is worth noting that SmartDNS services are not similarly blocked (indeed blocking such services is not easy to do.)

Expats and other overseas viewers who want to access iPlayer (and other geo-restricted services), but who are not concerned about the privacy and security advantages afforded by VPN, are therefore probably better off switching to a SmartDNS service instead. Check out our sister-site for more information.

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

31 responses to “BBC iPlayer Blocks VPN Users

    1. Hi nikki,

      You are correct that BBC iPlayer now blocks AirVPN users. Can you please explain how to use AirVPN’s Dynamic DNS feature to get around this? Maybe I’m just being dim this morning, but I’m not seeing it.

  1. As a StrongVPN user, I have been locked out of BBC for a good 6 months. Having read this article today, I signed up for StrongDNS and within 10 minutes I was back on BBC! Woohoo! As an existing StrongVPN user it costs me a mere $10 for the year. Worth every penny.

    What concerned me is the following – I went ahead and tried BFI. Used my Chrome browser to see if I can view a “free” clip, but NO! BFI have already figured out the DNS option and blocked me. Damn! I believe it’s just a matter of time before BBC catch on and block the DNS static IP workaround. We are all doomed!

  2. Hi,
    I wanted to watch BBC shows while abroad so i installed TunnelBear on myMac. I do have a licence in UK and i have connected to UK on TunnelBear. I still get the message on BBC iPlayer site that the content is only allowed within UK. It would seem that TunnelBear is not working. Can you please advice?

  3. Does the DNS service work for watching Netflix content from the USA to across the pond? It stopped working for me only 2 weeks after I started using one for the very first time back in October. I then tried one other DNS service with no better luck. Perhaps it’s changed again for the better? I really miss watching more international shows on Netflix.

    In other news I’ve never had a problem accessing the BBC player with either a VPN or DNS service. I’m using Windscribe’s VPN

    1. Hi Angela,

      Some smart DNS services are blocked by Netflix, some are not. Trial and error is needed to find out what works, so do take advantage of any free trials and money back guarantees.

    2. Hey Angela,

      Are you still able to watch the BBC iplayer with windscribe? I am finding that it is not working for me.


  4. I use Tunnelbear and have never had any problem viewing BBC programs in the U.S. Now I see that I have to mark a box saying that I have a license (and face a hefty fine for not telling the truth). So, is that the end of my watching the BBC? Any way around this? There is still ITV, but I will certainly miss BBC programming. I won’t go back to watching American television and experience my brain shrinking. If I check the box that says I do have a license, what happens next? Do they ask for a license number? Will they come after me in the U.S.? Will I be extradited (oh, goody!)? What’s up? Is there another way to stream the BBC that uses someone else’s license (certainly a way to make some money for someone)?

  5. It seems that all the BBC has done, by blocking VPN access and not providing a way for normal folks to access the system, is to force folks to pay the “pirates”. My personal VPN does not work on Windows with IE, yet I can access via the same external IP address using TeamViewer, so its doing more than block IP address. Another user notes that some times smartphone access works when a PC doesn’t so I assume its doing some sort of checks on the PC

    1. Hi Dave,

      The methods used by the BBC to detect VPN use are not 100% clear (and Auntie Beeb isn’t talking).

  6. I pay a licence fee in UK but work abroad a lot of the time and, so, don’t get full value.
    Why on earth is the BBC not offering to sell me [and thousands in the same situation] an add-on licence permitting me to view under my UK licence from abroad via, say, a registered IP address which connect to the UK via a VPN or whatever?
    There will also be many expats who, I imagine, would be willing to pay the equivalent of the UK licence plus the add-on to be able to watch the BBC through an apparently UK address.
    Seemingly they don’t need the money because this would not need rocket science to effect!

    1. Hi Danthecorkman,

      I was not aware of, so thanks. It looks great for watching live TV, but does not (as far as I can tell) provide access to iPlayer’s on-demand content.

  7. Using a DNS will not provide anonymity or any privacy as the original IP address is visable to the BBC. Should the BBC choose, they could trace users from abroad who are accessing the iPlayer without a license?

  8. Since Christmas Eve I have been unable to access the BBC iPlayer via StrongVPN. It sometimes works if I connect from an iPad or iPhone but is always blocked from Windows and Mac OS devices. I am currently using their StrongDNS product in lieu of the VPN and this works for me.

    Does anyone know if any of the VPN providers that were blocked back in October have been able to find a way around the block? I would assume that it is not easy to come up with a new batch of IP addresses given that there is now a shortage of IPV4 addresses.

    Do any of the VPN vendors support IPV6 addresses – are they also blocked by the BBC?

    1. Hi Mike,

      We have a list of VPN services that work (when last tested) with iPlayer here. I use AirVPN, and it works just fine, even when connected to an overseas server (thanks to some fancy routing performed by AirVPN.) Using SmartDNS instead of VPN should also work. As for IPv6, I don’t know the situation when it comes to iPlayer, but Mullvad is the only provider I know that claims to properly route IPv6 DNS requests.

      1. Hi Doug,
        my question was more around whether any VPN service that was blocked by the BBC has been able to find a work around. I appreciate some VPN providers have not been blocked but it would appear that it is just a matter of time.
        If the work around is really “whack-an-IP” then it is just temporary surely, until the BBC find and block those addresses.


        1. Hi Mike,

          Well in theory providers can continue to recycle their IPs (although the shortage of IPv4 addresses makes this increasingly difficult.) How TorGuard is doing in this respect after its boasts, I’m not sure.

  9. Not sure why anyone cares if people watch BBC programs using a VPN outside the country. What’s the big deal? It’s a great way to get the whole world loving British media. I live in the US and I’d gladly pay to watch some of the programs when they are released in the UK.

    1. Hi Adrienne,

      It’s all to do with licensing deals, as the Beeb makes a lot of money selling exclusive content to international media outlets. It is also regarded as unfair to UK license payers who can be (and are) fined (and even put in jail) for watching TV without paying the license fee…

  10. This is typical corporate technical BS! I live in the US and love iplayer that allows me access to the Beeb’s high quality content. Instead of wasting time, energy and licence payers money on blocking VPN users, why not develop a system that allows international users to pay a licence fee and access all content. All the expats I know would be happy to pay for the service (they about the same for a VPN connection) and would also have a clear conscience knowing they are not ripping off the BBC, which we don’t really want to do – but currently have no choice. The VPN providers will quickly move to circumvent anything the BBC do or they will lose customers. A little more 21st century thinking is needed in the BBC boardroom!

  11. What about those of us who pay our license fee but also travel abroad a lot. Surely the BBC could develop a method whereby legitimate license payers can ‘log in’ and still use iPlayer. We wouldn’t then need to go down the VPN route.

    1. Hi Steve,

      What indeed? By forcing UK liscence payer to disconnect from their VPN services, the BBC is encouraging bad op-sec by its users.

  12. This should be double-checked with multiple VPNs. I’m using TunnelBear. The iPlayer still works fine (checked today around 15 minutes ago).

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