Friday, September 16, 2011

Why Can't Americans Watch British TV While it is Happening?

I've never been in this position before. There are two television shows that I love that are both premiering new seasons in a couple of days, but that I will simply be unable to watch. Period.... or at least for some unknown and protracted amount of time. I can't dvr them, tape them, see them on youtube, view them online, or think of any other possible way to "get to" them.

They're just out of reach and it's killing me.

I haven't been in this position before, because in the past, I've always discovered my shows after they had run their course and were available on dvd. But with Downton Abbey and Spooks (MI-5), new episodes are coming out now on British TV. But not here in the states. Why!?

Trying to figure out the intricacies of trans-Atlantic cooperation with respect to TV copyrights would be challenging to much smarter people than I, and it is taking nearly all my brain cells to simply summarize it thus:

Downton Abbey airs on the British network  iTV1, which graciously makes programs available online to those in the UK. Same with BBC One, the network that broadcasts Spooks and which has a lovely website full of wonderful content if you are in the UK. You can't view video from these sites if you're in America because, as I understand it, international agreements aren't in place. I get that. Someone wants  money in order to secure distribution rights. That would be fine with me, if they'd just get on with it and distribute them.

I've looked into other ways of getting these shows. A nice little iPhone app called "FilmOn TV" offers live streaming of TV from a hodgepodge of stations in various world markets. I got excited when someone told me that iTV and BBC are on it, so I got the app which is free, easy to use, and works well for the roughly 60 channels I get (ranging from Dubai to Pentagon TV), but does not come loaded with BBC or  iTV. People in Europe say it works so I'm guessing that the channels must vary based on where you are and what distribution rights have been secured in that place.

Another alternative seems to be to trick the internet into thinking you are in the UK when you are in fact not. There are a few websites that promise services that mask your true location and make it appear that you are accessing the British network from a UK IP address. I have several problems with these ranging from (1) some charge too much (2) some don't work with Macs (3) most are too hard for techno-morons like me to understand and feel comfortable with and (4) I kind of doubt they are actually legal.

Another thought: sometimes people post bits of television shows on YouTube. But I've noticed that when people do this for whole episodes they seem to get removed. (The, ah, episodes, not the people), or they create "fake" posts that just link you over to other sites that fill your computer with viruses and such. So while I'm hopeful that some real person in the UK will take pity on the rest of us and post some episodes of Downton and Spooks -- and that I'll be lucky enough to find them. I'm not counting on it.

So its a waiting and wondering game.

Yes, I know, I'll get there someday. Downton Abbey is on Netflix. But I have no idea when the new episodes will show up. The rights to air the program in America are with Masterpiece Theater which doesn't have plans to do so until January. Seriously.

It's even worse with MI-5 which is also on Netflix -- with the same unknown lag time -- but for which I have truly no idea who has broadcast rights to show the new season in America, if anyone. (BBC America and A&E both show it sometimes, but not the more recent seasons.) Until MI-5 comes out on dvd, I may be out of luck. Season 9 didn't come out till this past June. Yikes! I better not have to wait until June 2012 to find out what happens with Harry and Ruth. (And the corollary to this problem: how on earth am I going to avoid hearing about what happens with Harry and Ruth if I have to wait a year?)

OK, I think I've done my venting.

I wish all you lucky UK viewers joy as you plunge into an amazing fall TV season! (Don't mind me, I'll just be sobbing quietly in the corner watching the Duchess of Duke Street.)


  1. I hear ya. Sad reality of now is that companies want to retain rights to shows so they can sell them to you down the line in DVD format. They are patient with distribution because it ensure max gain. Greedy pigs, but I suggest downloading and being poor enough that going for the authorities to come after you would be silly, or just deal with the Youtube playlists of your favorite shows. Better than waiting if you ask me, even if it sometimes feels like their is dirt in your eyes. Think of all the A-holes throughout time that had nuffin' to watch at all.

  2. I don't know but could you get it via Canadian satellite TV channels?

    They will likely have better provision of the shows, after all they share the same Queen and Commonwealth, or have they become too Americanised in their TV shows?

  3. Actually since I wrote this, I figured out a pretty good way to view online using a proxy server to mask my location. I don't even like to type that "outloud" because I don't know if its technically "allowed" haha, but its working for now.

    I know that there are a few different ways that do work, though uneven and troublesome, I just wish it were simpler and more official.

    Thanks for the tip on Canadian channels - hadn't thought of that. Have never given a moment's thought to Canadian tv before, wonder what they watch? Can't be worse than ours. ;)

  4. I was just going to suggest a VPN which is how I watch BBC iPlayer etc. Sounds like you got one!