At the time of writing, Brexit uncertainty is rife and millions of us are wondering how it will impact our daily lives. It might not rank up there with issues like immigration, economics or ‘taking back control’ but the ability to enjoy Match of the Day or the 10.00 clock News from Spain is a very big issue for me!
So let’s first cover the current situation, where the BBC restricts access to those in the UK by implementing geo-targeting technology. As any ex-pat or British TV fan has probably discovered none of the UK TV online stations are initially accessible when you travel outside the UK. All the major sites like the BBC and ITV check the location of your IP address when you connect and only allow access if it’s registered in the UK.
Fortunately millions of us have discovered that it’s relatively simple to bypass these restrictions by using a VPN service to hide our true location. Over the years there have been some problems with this method including when the BBC started to try and block all the VPNs. Now this has settled down quite a bit, and I’m happy to say I’ve been watching the BBC all over the world now for about 13 years using a particular VPN service called Identity Cloaker . I’m not alone either, many of the worst VPNs got closed down or blocked and this purge is still continuing to some extent. There are though quite a few services which work fine with all the UK TV channels even the commercial ones.
Will Brexit Block the BBC VPN Workaround ?
The situation is of course not entirely clear until we find out what’s the hell is happening, yet it looks likely that the status quo is likely to remain for some time. Indeed the biggest changes are likely to be if Britain had stayed in the European Union (although this is of course still possible). This is because the EU was engaged in the creation of a project to create a single digital market to align with it’s free trade model.
The idea behind this was to remove barriers that exist in the digital market, in order to stimulate the economies of digital products. One of the key factors with regards online streaming services like the BBC would have been the removal of barriers like geo-blocking. So for example if you had paid for access to the BBC iPlayer by paying for a UK TV license then that access should be allowed from any of the EU member countries. This would have effectively meant anyone who traveled outside the UK on holiday or business would be allowed access irrespective of their location.
For those who don’t have a permanent residency outside the UK then the impact would have been less clear. Certainly the ability to use a VPN would still have been effective initially. However if an TV license approved login was implemented to support the EU scheme this would have rendered the ‘VPN workaround’ ineffective. This would have mirrored the situation in places like Canada where most of the media companies need you to supply your cable details in order to stream their content online.
Of course, it might have made for a simpler situation where people could have spent their money on buying a normal UK TV license instead of having to but a VPN service to bypass the blocks.
Brexit and Broadcasting Issues
While it looks fairly certain that most people abroad should still be able to access the BBC using a VPN for some time, there are other potential broader issues. Many international TV channels are registered in the UK and use EU agreements to allow them broadcast across the continent. If these agreements are not transferred over via some future trade agreements then this is going to have major issues from many of them.
It’s not entirely certain how many broadcasting companies have their European operations headquarters in the UK but it’s a substantial number. Some estimated around 400 but others say it’s much higher when you include smaller companies. None of these companies will be able to rely on UK licensing to gain access to broadcast across Europe if the leave the single market.
Many huge companies like Disney, Discovery, 21st Century Fox and indeed even the BBC with their international channels rely on the free trade agreement for European broadcasting rights. Most of the bigger players have been looking to move their European headquarters into other countries in order to balance this. Most of them are currently based in London because it’s a world hub for International Broadcasting.
Like most of the other issues with Brexit, it’s unlikely we’ll know for sure what will happen to access to the BBC until it’s all arranged. If any sort of access to the single market remains then it’s likely the UK will eventually join the digital version too. The UK is probably the most advanced digital economy in Europe so it would make sense for it to be involved in or out of the EU.
If we crash out without an agreement then using a VPN like Identity Cloaker will almost certainly be even more beneficial in the short term as many other channels will likely be affected too. Many ex-pats of course would much prefer to pay for a legitimate UK TV license and for the money to go directly to the corporation. Some proponents of the Brexit have suggested that this may be more likely if we do crash out. Although who knows how far down the ‘to do list’ this will probably be!
Probably a good time to keep watching the British news, which is of course completely dominated by the Brexit issues at the moment.