Sunday, June 19, 2011

British TV vs American TV and how I watch BBC iplayer in USA

Having sampled some of it on my multiple trips across the pond, I must admit that one thing that I wasn’t looking forward to when I finally started living in the USA was American TV.  I am almost ashamed to admit this, as time and time again, when it comes to British TV vs American TV one of the cliches that you read and hear is British expats saying is how bad American TV is and how much they miss Coronation Street, Bruce Forsyth, the X Factor etc.  It all sounds a bit sad and pathetic to me.  For me, it wasn’t the soaps, or Brucie, or the British talent shows that I was worried about missing: it was the channels like BBC 4 TV, where you can watch a documentary about the history of the British Skiffle Movement, the story of evolution since Darwin, or watch a live performance of Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony. 

Maybe I am sounding like some sort of cultural snob, but I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I am knocking all American TV.  America does do some marvelous documentaries, the ones by Ken Burns springs to mind.  But American public television relies on donations, so quality documentaries are relatively few and far between, especially for a country of this size.  In terms of comedy and drama, however, American TV excels and two of my favourite shows: Curb Your Enthusiasm and House MD are produced here.  (95% of American TV is utter dross, of course, but that is true of British TV too, in my experience.  But I find it generally doesn’t matter, as you can usually avoid the dross with a handheld device known as the remote control.)

Which brings me to my actual problem.  My difficulty isn’t with the quality of the American TV programs that you get, it is with all the bloody adverts!  They are loud and they go on for ages and ages.  In fact, American TV can sometimes seem like one long series of adverts with occasional breaks for the programs.  It really is that awful!  I know now why Americans have a reputation for channel hopping, they are trying desperately to avoid being bombarded to death by all the endless ads. 

Anyway, back to my beloved BBC (who incidentally, don’t show any adverts in the UK).  After messing around with various free proxy servers and getting no joy, I found a free program that enabled me to get BBC iplayer in USA called Expat Shield, by tricking the BBC computers into thinking that my laptop is in Scotland, rather than Florida.  We also bought a new flat screen TV with a socket it in the back so I could put my laptop through it.

But after all that, the irony is that I hardly watch BBC iplayer or live British TV that much.  The truth is that I can watch the world news on BBC America, all my favorite British comedies like The Mighty Boosh and Never Mind the Buzzcocks are available on Youtube, and big events like the Royal Wedding and the European Cup Final are shown on American TV.  Plus there is always Netflix to stream movies and the library to borrow DVDs from.  Still, it’s reassuring to have the BBC option, I guess.


  1. Interesting post as we keep being asked if we want to watch British programmes via an iplayer! We have Sky Italia and like you can therefore watch British and American programmes, plus special events via this system.
    Thanks for your comment on the lizard photos.

  2. @Lindy - To be honest, I hardly watched TV in the UK, but here it seems more social as it is something that my wife, 13 year old and I can all do together! I loved the lizard. I've realised how underepresented the UK is in terms of reptiles since I left! :-)

  3. I have been watching golf - the USPGA - over the last few evenings (Something to do with a young man from Northern Ireland beating comfortably the rest of the world perchance :))
    The feed is taken from NBC I think and you rapidly become aware of how much play American audiences must miss through ad breaks - it would drive me mad!!!!

  4. I think a lot of the documentaries you'd be interested in aren't created and funded by the state, as they are in the UK, but rather privately here in the US. They end up on Netflix, or other websites like Youtube and Hulu, but they are there. I watch them all the time! lol You're just used to them being all on one channel... :-P

    But the majority of US TV is crap. The majority of TV is crap, regardless of where you live or who sponsors the programming, in my opinion!

  5. @David A - Yes, the golf was a massive sporting achievement for Ulster! It's funny here, in some ways the consumer does better because the customer service is better, but that is counteracted by the lack of consumer rights, as we would know them, with big business being much less regulated. A lot of problems are sorted out by litigation rather than legislation in the USA.

    @Xysea - I would stick to the general thrust of what I said. BBC 4 TV was just one example of a channel. Channel 4 and BBC 2 are good too for docus. American culture is very movie orientated and obviously the US is the world's leading film maker, certainly in the English language. Serious docus are at the other end of the spectrum in terms of funding here, as far as I can see.

  6. I apologize for forgetting to tell you that I linked to you in my current post - I'm so glad you saw it and made a great comment contribution. Life/travel insurance is offered via the Post Office.

    I've never heard of an iPlayer or the Expat Shield but will need to check it out. Ironically we hardly watch UK TV here because we can't figure out our Sky Box - we had Tivo in the US which made more sense to us :) You should check out, especially the Hulu link -Laura

  7. If one more person here in the U.K. asks me what is happening on 'Neighbours' back home...when I tell them I've never watched it they look at me in utter amazement! Robx

  8. Paul, I have sent you a Versatile Blogger pressure, just passing it on...Robx

  9. Yes, I don't envy you with the 'Neighbours' thing.

    Thanks for the award! :-)

  10. A reliable VPN service will allow you to view pretty much anything in the UK online!