Can you still watch the BBC in France?

Many viewers are unable to access BBC channels since a change in January

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The BBC has discontinued its standard definition satellite broadcasts, leaving many people in France unable to watch BBC channels. We look at whether solutions are available.

The BBC ended its standard definition (SD) satellite broadcasts on January 8, 2024, switching all of its channels to high definition (HD).

These HD channels are broadcast on the Astra 2E, 2F and 2G satellites. They are intended to let UK viewers receive the BBC via a ‘spot beam’ of satellite coverage.

However, this ‘spot beam’ targets the UK and since HD broadcasts require more modern equipment, the switch has left many unable to receive BBC channels in France.

Can you watch BBC HD channels in France?

You can receive the BBC’s HD satellite broadcasts in France, even if this is not intended by the BBC.

The BBC says that it is against its terms of service to access licensed content from outside the UK, however people can still watch from abroad and it is not illegal to do so by satellite.

Many who do so are UK TV licence payers.

But since the end of SD broadcasts, people need to have an HD capable television and decoder to continue viewing.

For Richard Westbrook from Sky in France, the most common reason why people can no longer watch the BBC is that their TV set-up is simply out of date.

“Televisions and decoders that are more than 15 years old are often unsuitable for HD,” Mr Westbrook told The Connexion. “Usually, people just need to upgrade their system to keep watching.

“It actually appears that the BBC has boosted the signal strength for their HD broadcasts but there are still areas that don’t receive it well.

“We are waiting to see how well it works in the summer when the signal in the south of France loses around 20% of its strength due to the curvature of the earth.

“People in the north of France typically have no problem, even with a standard size satellite dish, but the further south you live, the bigger the dish you need.”

People already equipped with HD decoders who cannot find a signal from the BBC’s Astra satellite broadcasts should contact their local satellite engineer to check that their dish is the correct size and aligned correctly.

An alternative way to watch UK broadcasts in France is via a smart TV linked to a virtual private network (VPN), which uses a UK-based internet (IP) address to give viewers abroad the same options they would have in the UK.

While VPNs are legal, the BBC says it is a breach of its terms of service to use one to watch its content.

There are many companies, including Sky in France, that offer VPN routers to watch UK TV, which remains the only viable option to reliably watch UK TV for many places on France’s southern coast.

Another solution to watch UK TV is via an IPTV box, which is also legal. These boxes are relatively widespread, with 5.1% of the French population owning one in 2022.

However, Mr Westbrook told The Connexion that people should avoid using IPTV.

“There are lots of dubious companies offering subscriptions services for UK TV channels even though they have no legal right to do so,” he said. “Sky in particular is leading a crackdown”.

Read more: France ‘must crackdown on rise in illegal sports streaming sites’

The BBC did not respond to repeated queries from The Connexion as to how it recommends UK TV licence payers can watch from France.

At present, the only BBC channel available in France is BBC News which is included in many internet TV packages or a Canal+ subscription.

The BBC says that it is looking into upgrading the iPlayer to allow UK TV licence-payers to use it abroad, however no date has been given for this.

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