Thursday, October 15, 2009

Abroad and In Search of American TV: Expat How-To

In my recent move to the UK, the most glaring hole in our new life here is that we have not purchased a new TV that will work with the PAL broadcast system over here. (Alright, did I lose your interest yet?) I know we will break down eventually, but so far it just hasn't ranked up there in the "need to purchase immediately" category. Of course, I've been here since August 17th and just got around to getting a microwave (£15 at a rummage sale, boo-ya!) and am still complaining to pretty much anyone that will listen about the lack of ice in my life (I swear, I will finally part with the money to buy a freezer this month), so my priorities are clearly a little screwy.

Back to my point, though, about the TV. It has actually been a gift to this family that television has been subtracted from the equation. It makes me incredibly happy to cut off the children's non-stop stream of available cartoons and kids' shows 24 hours a day that used to be available to them via the DVR and glut of satellite-TV channels. Sure, I impose time limits like everyone else, but it was a constant fight for their attention. They are better children for it, more involved with me, my husband, their friends, the computer, and the Wii. (Hey, I'm not going to be raising any Luddites in this family!)

Of course when I say 'gift to the family,' I don't actually include myself in that. I am way too immersed in popular culture to just turn my back on all my favorite shows! You are talking to a woman who has been a loyal subscriber of Entertainment Weekly for the last 13 years and still reads it front to back every week, after all! What would happen if I just up and decided that I didn't need to know what happens to our band of castaways/survivors on Lost? Could I survive without the joyous weekly sing-a-longs of Glee? Would I wither away into the autumn woodlands of the ancient forests here without knowing the pleasures of Modern Family or the intrigue of Flash Forward? And God forbid this move get in the way of me living, dying, and living again with the carnal pleasure that is watching True Blood.

So imagine my surprise when I hopped over to and found this message, "The video you requested is not available for your geographic region." What the hell? Why does CBS care whether or not I am watching their show here or back home or wherever, right? (Alright, fine, I understand that they have distribution deals with other countries, but how many people really care enough to seek out the shows to watch online at their site?)

So I did what any red-blooded American would do in this situation: I Googled it.

It turns out that there are a few ways to get around the problem, depending on how crafty you want to get. The easiest, highest quality and most expensive option is to buy the content you want to watch on iTunes and then download it to your computer. But 1.) I'm not made of money and 2.) My hard drive is already teetering on the brink of spilling out onto my desk it is so freaking full. So, that's not going to work unless we win the EuroMillions jackpot.

So I headed back to Google and did a search on: "streaming Glee tv" which turned up several online services (, that point you to another site that is streaming that content. Because they are not actually streaming the copyrighted video, they are legally OK. But some of the sites you get shunted to have terrible quality video, are obviously illegal, and still charge you if you want to watch more than 72 minutes of TV a day (I'm talking to you, And is, uh-oh!, geo-locked like the network sites. Boo!!!

Next I did a search that turned up thisword: VPN. Hmmm. I knew this word, but couldn't quite remember what it stood for. I looked it up on Wikipedia and, voilá, there was the answer! It stands for Virtual Private Network and it allows a person anywhere in the world to connect to a host server in the US (or anywhere else in the world) and assume the IP address of that server. Essentially, as soon as you connect to a VPN, it hides your IP address and you assume the new address. And with the new IP address that is located in the US, one can then connect to, ABC, CBS, NBC, you name it, and watch their video content. :) Success!

I have a feeling there are some laws ordinances rules that are in jeopardy of being broken, but this option has got to be preferable to the millions of dollars the Arts Industry loses to Pirate Bay-type torrent downloading or these various other sites that I found streaming almost every tv show you could want to see and don't require you to even watch commercials. I personally don't subscribe to ripping off hard-working people in the movie and television industries (I was a film major once upon a time, after all!), so I really want to be able to watch my shows in the most legitimate way I can.

Which brings me to a company I found called HideIPVPN. Not only do they offer the service of hosting IP servers in the US and the UK, they offer a program to bloggers (disclosure alert!) to get free VPN services for a year if they write a review of their services. So....

I was given a 3-day free trial to get a taste of what American TV is like when accessed from an ocean away. The set-up was a little tricky at first. They sent me a link to a tutorial that would set up the VPN as an application, but when that didn't work, the support person told me to use the PPTP way to connect. I said, "Uh.... what is a PPTP?" and he sent me more directions that I got one step wrong in the process and couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong until that same very-quick-to-respond tech person helped me sort it out via email. The setup, once I realized where I had made the mistake was really kind of ridiculously easy on my Mac and when I was done I just connected to the US server it was done.

I was able to immediately connect to and stream the premiere of Flash Forward (you know, the one from three weeks ago). I was instantly hooked and was pretty frustrated with the slow connection, but realized that if I put the player on pause and left it for a few minutes it will build up a buffer of video to compensate for the slower speed. I am not sure, because of my short window of use, whether my connection speeds were questionable while using the HideIPPVN because of their server or because it was Friday night and everyone in the UK was accessing it to get their hulu on. Of the six or so shows that I saw while using their server, I only watched one show on Sunday that seemed to be able to stream in perfect time with the video. It was, frankly, annoying. But that trick of just letting it sit and download enough video to stay ahead of you worked well, so it wasn't the end of the world.

The company gives away 100 monthly memberships to their service a month (but they apparently are all spoken for within the first hour of release) and offers "premium" accounts for $9.99/month. I am incredibly addicted dedicated to my television shows, so for me this is an expense I would be willing to spring for. We have no intention of getting a TV here, thus not incurring a £200/year TV tax or monthly satellite bills, so I feel like am getting off scott-free only paying $10/month, plus the occasional other must-have that I will pay for via iTunes. But, as I said, I am writing this review because they dangled a "free" option in front of me and I love free best of all. (I guess I can spring for that season ticket to Mad Men now!)

Given the options, I think a VPN makes a lot of sense. It isn't perfect, but short of paying out big bucks for iTunes, it seems to be the most legal option out there if you are living overseas and want to stay on top of American television programming.

I will willingly watch whatever commercials ABC, NBC, and any other legal site throw in my way, if it will make them continue to offer their programming online. :)


  1. Very interesting... I love Flash Forward!

  2. I need full TV service, I am sad without it, stereotype American "values" and such.

  3. I guess that where there's a will - there really is a way...

    I'm hooked on Flash Forward too. Against my better judgement I might add after that whole "Invasion" cancellation a few years ago. I can't believe I dedicated an entire season of viewing time only to be left hanging like that.

  4. I feel your pain, but in reverse! I've been trying to watch UK shows over here for years! I have a regional DVD player and now just wait for the shows to come out on DVD!

    Sorry can't offer any other solutions for ya, but I can tell you, as I have been telling my UK friends, that another show to watch out for is Cougar Town -- friggin' hysterical!

  5. I always warn my husband against any illegal downloading and internet piracy, but if I were in your situation and needed to access Glee? I would go pirate all the way and smile wide. :-)

  6. If you get totally desperate, get your hands on the DVDs of Dexter. I can't shut up about this show. Season four just started, but honestly, I like to watch series like that on DVD, so that when you get really into it, you can watch one right after another without waiting a whole gd week.

  7. I love it I love it I love it ... I think you're the only one in my blogosphere that actually watches and loves TV as much as I do!!! I am enthralled with Flash Forward (much like I was with Heroes, which is quickly going downhill) so I'll be fabu to chat with you about the show!!! YAY!!!

  8. We don't have TV connection, haven't had one for years, so we only watch DVDs at home. Then Sascha and I get on the pc and watch our shows (24 and Lost for him, Grey's and Cougar Town for me) online. Been doing that in the US for the past 3 years, and before we moved here we did some research to make sure we wouldn't have to give up our favorite shows, so we've had VPN running pretty much since we moved to our place :-)

  9. i'm living in japan and it's the same story here. it bugs. bad. ps. your blog is great. glad i found you!

  10. Just goes to show how easy I give up on things like this. Living north of the border, I too was banned from watching shows on-line at ABC or CBS, etc. (my guilty pleasure was "Jericho" I love post apocalyptic stuff like that and "Flash Forward" also has me hooked) but I never bothered to look any further. I mean really, we Canadians get American acid rain and other nasty stuff but we can't watch your TV on-line? I will be following your instructions toute suite.

  11. Just goes to show how easy I give up on things like this. Living north of the border, I too was banned from watching shows on-line at ABC or CBS, etc. (my guilty pleasure was "Jericho" I love post apocalyptic stuff like that and "Flash Forward" also has me hooked) but I never bothered to look any further. I mean really, we Canadians get American acid rain and other nasty stuff but we can't watch your TV on-line? I will be following your instructions toute suite.

  12. You can download something called Hot Spot Shield for free and it does the same thing. You can then watch all the shows on the network websites. I also have to say the best invention ever is the slingbox and I don't know how I ever survived without one. You just have to be really nice to a family member (or friend) in the US so they let you keep it at their house..

  13. LIving in India, I get that "geographic region" block thing from time to time. Bastards.

  14. Finally, someone else with whom I can share my television addiction with. I feel your pain. The best part about FlashForward is that it has Jack Davenport in it. I love Jack Davenport!!! I love Dominic Monaghan too, but not quite as much. :)

    Come see this post. I had to give you a shout out.

  15. Can not wait to get home from work to try this! Thanks for the tips!


Thoughts appreciated. Advice welcome. Douche-baggery scoffed at then deleted.