Is the BBC iPlayer Detecting VPN Services ?

Updated July 2020 – just checking this information is up to date and valid as I’ve been in the UK for a few months (so haven’t needed to change my IP address).

I can confirm that BBC iPlayer is still working well with this VPN as long as you use their BBC optimized servers – # 729-732, 757-764, 1044-1045, 1022-1025, 717-720, 745-752, 81-84, 974-977, 481-483, 689, 1057

Solution - BBC iPlayer blocking VPN

A couple of years ago, for the very first time the BBC started to block access from people who were using various methods for watching BBC iPlayer from abroad. First they blocked access from simple proxies which is a relatively straight forward process.  This was pretty much expected, in fact it was more surprising that they’d not done this earlier.  Every other media firm blocked proxy server access years ago yet they worked without problems since the initial release of BBC iPlayer at the end of 2007.

Proxies are now officially dead for all region locking purposes, in fact the likes of Netflix, Hulu and all other major media companies blocked them years ago. Fortunately the BBC iPlayer workaround is still working ok and the vast majority of people now use VPN (Virtual Private Network) connections to access these sites and indeed to watch the BBC online too. However the next step was much more surprising when the BBC started blocking VPN connections too.

Can BBC iPlayer detect VPN Servers

First to clarify, when you hear BBC blocking VPN services it sounds like they’ve developed some method to detect all VPN services.  This simply isn’t the case,  they targeted many of the more obvious companies.  When you see many reports of BBC iPlayer not working through VPN, it’s usually because a company like Express VPN have made themselves a target openly advertising the functionality.  The Chinese Government have spend huge amounts of resources trying to automatically detect and block VPNs without complete success so the BBC obviously haven’t either.   They have however utilized different methods to combat the global BBC live VPN phenomena.

They’ve been doing this in two distinct ways, firstly via a technical solution and secondly using the BBC legal department.   The technical method really focused on identifying potential VPN access using a simple fingerprinting method and blocking manually.  This was combined with the legal department targeting VPN and Smart DNS companies which openly advertised the ability to watch the BBC or any of it’s other channels.

The result was pretty brutal, hundreds of VPN services stopped working in a matter of weeks.  Others who had infringed on copyright actually disappeared as their hosting providers received threatening legals letters.

BBC iPlayer Blocking VPN Connections – Who are the Survivors

It’s difficult to say how many VPN services have survived this purge because it is ongoing to some extent.  However, fortunately some of the more technically advanced services continue to operate and still allow access for streaming BBC iPlayer.  Here’s a brief rundown of the characteristics you need to look for in  services that both work now and can be expected to work into the future.

  • Market themselves as a VPN Service (not a TV Viewing one) – pretty much all the services which openly marketed themselves as unblockers or services for watching TV and media sites have disappeared or don’t work anymore with the BBC.
  • Large Infrastructure – basically having lots of server with fast speeds, the smaller VPN providers have only a few UK servers.  This means that they have thousands of users on the same IP addresses which are easy to detect and get blocked quickly.
  • Secure Configurations – many VPN services are unfortunately run by people with little technical knowledge and as such are easily detected.  A well configured VPN with proper leak protection is almost impossible to detect directly. Make sure you try out short trials or demos before subscribing, you should be able to watch the BBC online from anywhere within minutes.
  • Residential IP address Support – although currently not essential to access the BBC online, this is something that is likely to happen.  Netflix this year restricted access to IP addresses classified as ‘residential’ , many expect the BBC and other media sites to follow this example.
  • Customer Support – things change, who knows what any major streaming service will do tomorrow.  Having great customer support means that your VPN will change too.  A decent support team should ensure that you maintain access and those fast speeds.

How to Choose a VPN Which Works with BBC iPlayer

There’s no doubt that the last 12 months have been very tough for VPN services particularly those who focus on the region unlocking market.  Many thousands of people suddenly found that their favorite BBC iPlayer VPN blocked overnight, often after many years of use.  However the better and more professional ones still work perfectly. Some people think that the BBC are detecting and blocking all VPN access automatically however this is not the case. The reality is that a well configured VPN connection cannot be reliably detected, even the Chinese haven’t perfected a method yet.  It may look like BBC iPlayer is detecting VPN services but this is not strictly the case.

The BBC though have managed to block a huge proportion of these services simply by identifying them manually from their websites and detecting IP addresses with loads of users connecting concurrently. So make sure the company you choose has plenty of fast UK based servers and it doesn’t advertise itself directly as a way to watch the BBC or ITV abroad.

You’ll see a lot of talk online about how the BBC iPlayer VPNs are not working anymore but it’s not entirely true.  There are some good ones still out there, and arguably it is easier now to choose a reliable, well configured service. The best VPN is usually safer than ever before  – just make sure you test them out before subscribing for a long period.

My favorite and probably the best value VPN service still works and you can see it in action here –

The program has worked perfectly with all the major UK TV stations including the BBC iPlayer for many years now.  I’ve used it all over the world including this year on my holiday to the USA. They are constantly expanding their networks with new UK servers and also have a special network of servers specifically dedicated to this task.  These have switchable IP addresses which will ensure that this VPN will continue to work with the BBC.  It’s also the simplest way to learn how to watch BBC iPlayer abroad on iPad , Smart phones or other tablets – they have a version for almost every device.

So in summary, although the BBC have blocked many VPN services, there are still some working. Our recommendation is NordVPN  who have some of the most competitive deals in the industry, some of their longer plans are available for less than $3 a month.

Latest NordVPN offers and discounts are here.

There are literally hundreds of UK servers in the NordVPN connection list but for the BBC – I would suggest using these.  Some work better from Europe, others from the USA  –

– but try out them all # 729-732, 757-764, 1044-1045, 1022-1025, 717-720, 745-752, 81-84, 974-977, 481-483, 689, 1057 .


The Future Developments of Geotargeting and Blocking from Large Websites and Corporations

The whole history of the use of geotargeting technology and why most of us are now using VPNs for everyday browsing is a fascinating one.  The technology started in quite a benevolent fashion being used by the search engines for content localization.   Basically it made sense, if you where looking for an electrician using a search engine like Google it made sense to send you local results.  After all although it’s easy to type your location into each query it’s kind of annoying having to do it every single time.  Geotargeting or Geolocation meant that it wasn’t necessary, adding a layer of intelligence to your search engine didn’t really upset anyone.

However little did we know, that it wast actually starting a creeping invasion of our privacy which has begun to spiral out of control.  Although customizing our search results sounds innocent enough in reality it means that the search engine determines your location every time you use it.  Yes it still uses your location to send you local tradesmen results but it also target advertising and offers based on your location too.

Now virtually every single large website gathers demographic information about their users.  Even if you’re careful every time you use the internet you are revealing huge amounts of very personal information about yourself.  Imagine what a company like Amazon knows about their average user through their purchases and consumption of streaming services.   You’ve probably bought all sorts of stuff over the years just like all of us.  We order clothes, food, technology and watch films, listen to music and read books all through a single portal.  You can be sure teat there are some incredibly clever (and intrusive) algorithms profiling us from all this data to !

There’s a lot to learn from the actual goods and services that you purchase but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  What about those casual clicks on adverts, those search queries, the general idle browsing through social media. Every click from your computer potentially reveals something about who we are, where we are and what we believe in.  Without wanting to sound too Orwellian, we really are being watched like never before in human history.  I’m afraid the KGB and Stasi don’t even come close to the amount of surveillance that happens online in 2020.

Blocking and Bypassing those Blocks – the VPN BBC Challenge

For many of us, me included, starting to use the best VPN we can find to change out IP address is the start of it.  In the beginning it’s usually a very functional solution to being denied access to a particular site.  Obviously this page it’s about bypassing the block to access BBC iPlayer or some other streaming services.  You can generally use a VPN with a UK server to access all the free UK television sites for instance.  For an English speaker this makes the cost very reasonable – you can unblock BBC iPlayer account, ITV Hub, Amazon Prime Video and lots of TV shows from anywhere in the world.   Indeed even if you just use a VPN to stream BBC it’s great value when you consider the cost of cable subscriptions that don’t come close to what you can watch iPlayer.

There’s no doubt though that using the fastest VPN you can find brings a lot more control back to the individual in all sorts of ways.  Obviously there’s the ability to bypass all these blocks and filters that these sites use to control what you can watch from all the popular streaming sites.  However there’s more than just being able to stream BBC programmes when you’re on holiday, there’s the very real benefit of maintaining some actual privacy online at least by hiding your IP address.

Potentially any VPN service will work with BBC iPlayer although as we’ve seen mentioned it’s not always true in practice.  The fact is that no streaming services are able to block access from outside the UK.  There’s no way to automatically detect any VPN server although there are certainly some countermeasures that can be employed.   When you connect to any streaming service using a VPN obviously your priority is to hide your IP address.  The problem of being identified relies primarily on the fact that many people will be using that same address.

In the earlier years, any VPN company could bundle thousands of users on a small amount of servers in the UK.  Everyone would be accessing BBC without issues as long as the network had enough bandwidth.  Now though, one of the primary detection methods is not something technical like a DNS leak but to look at how many connections work with BBC iPlayer servers on each IP address.  If one address has thousands of connections then it’s highly likely that a proxy or VPN app is being used. The iPlayer not working error message was largely due to over-utilization being detected by the iPlayer server.  This is why the free VPN services have never worked for unlocking BBC iPlayer or any streaming servers – they’re too easy to detect.

Problems and Fixes Using a VPN to Watch BBC iPlayer

As mentioned above there’s no inherent block or way that the BBC can stop all VPNs from working.  Everyday millions of people unblock BBC using a all sorts of VPNs from all over the world.    Yet you’ll also read many reports that ‘my vpn doesn’t work’ or BBC has ‘iplayer app is blocked’ – so what’s the problem.

The fact is that most of the time is simply a case of volume.  If an individual connects through a single IP address to the BBC server then they’d always be fine.  However when thousands connect using the exact same IP address (of the VPN) then it’s going to look suspicious.  Obviously sometimes people share addresses, colleges, flats shared houses on the same TV license too etc but there’s a realistic limit to how many.

The BBC then can work out which addresses are ‘suspicious’ and are more likely to be a proxy or VPN being used to unblock BBC from abroad.   The more popular the VPN is and the more the servers are used to access iPlayer then the greater the chance of it being blocked.  Unless you’re going to pay for a dedicated private internet access where you don’t share an IP then this situation is always a risk.

Most of the decent VPN services though will suffer a few blocks but will regularly switch the address ranges of their UK servers.   It’s vital they do this as often as possible to protect their connections, otherwise addresses will be blacklisted.   Whatever VPN provider you use, just ensure it has lots of different servers and switch between them regularly.

So to summarise –

  • VPN Still Work to Connect to BBC iPlayer
  • Individual IP Addresses Though will get blocked if Shared
  • VPN Provider must monitor IPs Which are Blocked and Rotate them.
  • VPN Should Avoid Advertising the ability to Access BBC

These points count for every single VPN service and how well they manage their IP Pools and keep a low profile.   So as long as the connection is secure and you don’t need extra leak connection (check out if you’re having issues using any VPN.

What to Watch Out For in the Future Regarding VPN Services and Access to BBC iPlayer

It’s difficult to be completely sure that us expats will never see the BBC iPlayer Not Working cries for help again.  Without doubt this iplayer app will continue to be the subject of restrictions and blocks.  Hopefully most VPN companies who advertise the functionality will maintain plenty of servers in the UK to support this major streaming platform for those of us located in other countries.

To be honest there is a chance that access may disappear altogether or at least become as difficult as some of the other popular streaming services.  There are two main factors which could lead to this happening, at least when you assess current technology.

Firstly it’s possible that the BBC will start looking at the classification of different IP addresses when they connect to BBC iPlayer.   Some other companies have already started doing this like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  They basically look to ensure the connections are coming from residential addresses and not commercial ones.  If this happens then the majority of current VPN options will stop working and it will be irrelevant whether you’re connecting through a UK server or not.

The fix is simple but not that easy to implement – you just have to make sure that all the UK servers have residential IP addresses for their internet access.   The difficulty with this is that they are difficult to acquire certainly with the numbers required to access a major streaming site like the BBC iPlayer.  It’s possible though and certainly feasible that some of the larger companies like NordVPN would continue to support access to the BBC iPlayer.   There would probably be a significant increase in costs though to finance the additional costs. all rights reserved

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