Is it possible to use BBC iPlayer in France?

I have been struggling to use BBC iPlayer at my French holiday home – is there a way around this? I thought the BBC was bringing in the right to sign in from abroad temporarily for BBC licence-payers? H.D.

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The BBC has been reviewing the way iPlayer works and the short answer is that it has been considering this but has not done it yet.

A few years ago, the BBC became concerned that people were using its iPlayer service to watch BBC content despite not paying for a British TV licence.

The UK parliament ruled in 2016 that it was illegal to use iPlayer without a licence. Before that, households only needed to hold a licence to watch ordinary broadcast TV.

This did not involve any technical change at first but you could in theory be fined up to £1,000, plus any legal costs and compensation ordered by a court, if caught using it in the UK without a licence, as is also the case when watching ordinary TV.

In 2017, the BBC required people to sign up to have a BBC online account to use its iPlayer and this is still needed. The BBC said at the time that having an account would enable people to have a better service with new features.

It added that, by comparing email addresses, it may be able to identify people who have said they do not need a TV licence but who at the same time have been signing in to use iPlayer.

In 2018, a BBC spokesman said they were looking into allowing UK licence-payers to use iPlayer on holiday. Other new competitors such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video had started following the EU’s digital portability rules to permit this.

The spokesman said they welcomed the EU regulations in making this feasible but said there were complex technical issues to resolve and it would depend on what legislation was in force in the UK in future. Brexit, if it happens, may make the EU rules irrelevant to the UK.

It is simple to set up a BBC account, including if you are not resident in the UK or are not a UK licence-payer. However, even when signed in to an account, if you try to use iPlayer in France it will identify that you are outside the UK and will currently inform you that “BBC iPlayer only works in the UK due to rights issues”.

For now, then, you are not able to stream or download programmes on iPlayer while abroad, although you should be able to access programmes that you have downloaded before leaving the UK – usually available for 30 days after they are shown on live TV.

Some people access the service in France by using a VPN (virtual private network) – usually requiring a subscription fee of a few euros a month - and choosing to route their computer via a server located in the UK. T

his disguises the computer’s location and bypasses the “geoblocking” technology the BBC uses to identify that your computer’s IP address is located abroad and to prevent you accessing the service.

However, this breaks the terms and conditions of BBC iPlayer so it is possible, though in practice probably unlikely, that you could have your account suspended for doing this.

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