The Hulu/iView/iPlayer Overseas Viewing FAQ

The Hulu/iView/iPlayer Overseas Viewing FAQ

nohulu Want to watch overseas streaming sites like Hulu or the BBC iPlayer in Australia, or catch up with the ABC’s iView when you’re on an overseas trip? The unfortunate truth is occasionally it’s possible, but generally it’s not. Here’s why.

One of the most frequently received questions at Lifehacker is “How can I watch Hulu?” Hulu (just in case you didn’t know) is the combined web portal for NBC, Fox and ABC (three of the four major US TV broadcasters), which allows users to watch recent and classic TV programming directly in their browser. We’re also often asked similar questions about specific online media sites (like CBS in the US), or other national broadcasting services (like the BBC’s iPlayer). And occasionally we’re asked the inverse question: is it possible to access the ABC iView service (which offers similar catch-up facilities for Australian programs) when you’re not in Australia?

Why can’t I use these services in Australia?

While the concept of watching TV online whenever you like sounds hugely appealing, in reality Australian viewers who head to Hulu will soon encounter this message: “We’re sorry, currently our video library can only be streamed within the United States.” Similar disappointment awaits you at the BBC’s iPlayer, on many other overseas TV network sites, and even on some videos on YouTube.

The reason for this blockage is twofold. Firstly, Hulu is supported by advertising, and the advertisers are generally aiming at a US domestic audience. Secondly, the makers of the TV programs often rely on selling the overseas broadcast rights, and as such they don’t want their potential income streams reduced by anyone in the world being able to view their work. “On demand rights” are generally sold on a country-only basis, which means Hulu can only show programs to US audiences, while the ABC can only show programs within Australia. (In the case of the BBC, there’s also a more direct financial argument: the broadcaster is funded by a compulsory licence fee paid by all UK residents, and they would feel ripped off if other people accessed equivalent services for nothing.)

How can the broadcasters tell where I’m based?

In general, these services rely on checking the IP address (the unique numeric address which identifies your PC on the Internet) assigned to users to tell where a visitor is based. ISPs typically own large groups of IP addresses, and assign these to users as they connect. As such, checking the regional location is fairly straightforward: if you’re connecting with an IP owned by Telstra, odds are you’re in Australia. This kind of technology isn’t just used by Hulu and its bretheren (for instance, if you access in Australia, you’ll be redirected to the Australian site).

Can I use software to pretend I’m based somewhere else?

Short answer: you can try, but it probably won’t work. Software known as proxy servers is used to effectively ‘mask’ your actual IP address, making it look as if your request is coming from a different location. Two we’ve mentioned in the past in this context include Hotspot Shield and IP Hider.

Unfortunately (and as you’ll soon realise) Hulu and similar sites quickly got wise to this particular trick, and have added the IP addresses provided by those applications to their list of banned locations. IP Hider and Hotspot Shield are both free applications, which makes them popular but also means that they’re the first target for this kind of activity. There are also lots of commercial proxy applications, but just because you’ve paid money doesn’t guarantee the service will work any better. You might get lucky and gain access for a while, but the chances are good it will get blocked before too long.

All that is very annoying. I’m just going to download everything via BitTorrent from now on.

This is not an uncommon reaction. We’ve moved very quickly over the last 20 years from happily watching programs whenever they were broadcast to demanding tighter control over our viewing experience. However, bear this in mind while you’re busy pushing your download limits: if TV networks go entirely broke, there won’t be as much professional content getting produced for anyone to share, no matter what the technology.

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  • I don’t see how the last point is really valid (i.e. “However, bear this in mind while you’re busy pushing your download limits: if TV networks go entirely broke, there won’t be as much professional content getting produced for anyone to share, no matter what the technology.”).

    People don’t pay when they’re downloading via bittorrent, but neither do they pay when they’re watching via Hulu. I can sort of see your point about ad-supported content, but it sounds like you’re revisting the old “bittorrent is stealing” cliche. Watching on youtube/hulu etc is the same for consumers (i.e. free) and I’d say it’s up to the networks to come up with ways to capitalise on new demand (after all, more people are now watching US TV shows thanks to bittorrent).

    While they might want to target a country specific audience, I fail to see why they can’t change their models to target show-specific audiences. For example, for a sci-fi TV show, put some video game adverts in…. For Desperate Housewives, put in some adverts targetted at women.

    TV/Film is trying to hold onto old ways of doing things, just like the music industry was. And just like the music industry, they will eventually adapt and realise that this is really a new opportunity, not a threat. After all, more people watching means their market is bigger.

    • You’re right that Channel BT viewers don’t see ads, and that’s the point I was making: if people entirely circumvent broadcasters, they get no income. No income = no shows.

      As for your point regarding advertising, it assumes that advertisers can advertise a product that’s globally appealing/available, which isn’t going to happen in many cases. Highly targeted advertising might be a solution, but will indeed require massive structural change.

      • To Rich’s point, if Hulu can check an IP address to see the viewers location, why not use that info to serve ads based on location. Ie. a viewer watching The Office in Australia sees adverts from Vegemite and the viewer in Chicago gets an ad for Pizzeria Uno.

        Networks make money, Advertisers have finely targeted audiences, shows get global exposure, viewers remain happy.

  • I share a dedicated server for US$50 with some friends and we have a dedicated US IP address to do our stuff from. Downloading Torrents, accessing US only content, using as our own private proxy, as a off site data storage, etc…

    You can do this too.

  • Part of the problem is that, speaking from a technological perspective, the TV business model is flawed. Instant digital copying, whether directly or via the analog hole, means that anything which is broadcast in any format whatsoever can be anonymously recorded, stripped of ads, and put on the internet for the world to see.

    The reason TV persists is because the number of people who are still using the old broadcast model, plus the number of people who are fairly content with the new model, still vastly outweighs the number of people likely to rip, strip, and reship.

    The problem is that the former group are shrinking and the latter group are expanding. The hole in the bottom of the TV bucket is growing. The Hulu issue, just like Macrovision, DRM, and a raft of paid-for laws before it, is an attempt to plug the hole with a water-soluble sponge. It doesn’t address the fundamental fault, it only slows down the trickle a little, and sooner or later the sponge becomes completely useless.

  • Living in Australia and being “geekish” I guess I have spent too much time on this issue. For anyone who is interested a good site to watch tv is (It’s not a High Def web site though)

    Other findings are that if you have a Windows Mobile pda or s60 based mobile phone then you can install the Skyfire web browser. This browser authenticates (I believe) in the US so you can watch a lot of Hulu content, from Australia. If you try this on your phone beware of large data downloads/costs if you watch videos.

    I also use a VPN (a paid Virtual Private Network) at times, which works, but is slow. Of all the options I have the pda works the best. It’s cheap and the screen isn’t too tiny. Cheers Stephen

  • Hi,

    I have access to both BBC iPlayer and Hulu in Australia.

    The set up I use is running boxee ( on an AppleTV. It could also be run on Windows/ Linux/ Mac. I then use the Boxee VPN plugin to connect to a paid VPN service that allows me to select a UK IP address or a US VPN address on demand depending on the content I want to watch. As far as I know the VPN Plugin only runs on MAc or Apple TV but for other systems, you could launch the VPN connection outside the app and then watch what you want.

    The streaming from both of these sites is fine. I did have some initial speed issues but once I changed the DNS settings on the AppleTV to use the VPN providers DNS, it streams fine. I won’t list the VPN provider here but you can see more details on the boxee forums.

    The above didn’t require too much technical knowledge apart from installing OpenVPN on the AppleTV. There is also plenty of discussions/ advice in the Boxee forums on how to do this.

    • I use Witopia – Personal VPN – SSL/ PPTP combo. $USD 69.99 a year. When runnign it and then using, the speeds appear slow but I can stream it fine with boxee once I changed to Witopia DNS. No idea why this made much of a difference but it did. Boxee also has active developers so there is loads of other US based content available as well

  • Hey,

    Good post by the way, enjoyed the read.
    Just one thing though, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I fail to see how companies are loosing out by us downloading TV shows from torrents. The only other options we have, that I can think of are via iTunes (very often a delay in being available) and purchasing the DVD box set (available after the end of the season).

    Take ‘The Office’ for example, I love this show, and I want to keep up with the latest episodes (available via torrents within 6 hours or so after being broadcast). But if I have to do it legally (which I do want to do) I have to wait several weeks for it to be available on iTunes, and honestly I can’t be bothered waiting that long.

    So in short if iTunes began hosting these shows the day after they’re broadcast, I’d give up downloading my TV Shows via torrents in a flash.

    lol at my little vent.

    Life’s too short to care too much about these things anyways.


    • I think you answered your own question about how they’re losing out 🙂 Yes, timeliness would be nice, but it seems to me that people who say “it’s too slow to appear, therefore I’ll do it illegally” are assuming that absolutely everything in the world has to suit their own agenda. Life is rarely like that.

      • While I agree with you about people suiting their own agenda, it is no different to the big TV networks wanting to suit their agenda as well.

        The thing about TV is that native networks tend to show programs to their native audiences first. The result as someone said above is that non-native fans of those shows seek out the show as soon as it’s shown whether that’s illegal through torrents, or later through something like itunes.

        If networks want to capture the audiences worldwide they need to smarten up and broadcast the show worldwide!! It’s not rocket science!


        Broadcast on the net at the same time/marginally later – use IP to focus advertising. This is actually an opportunity for overseas networks to gain advertising revenue from abroad – imagine if Australia’s Channel 7 broadcast Home and Away to the UK online and snapped up UK advertising contracts at the same time?? 5 million potential viewers – compared to the less than 1 million in Australia…

        Networks could partner networks overseas – I’m sure there must be a level of this already, why else would BBC shows end up mainly on the ABC??? But they could expand on this and simulcast shows in the UK and here in Australia – they actually kind of did this already on UKTV and BBC with Torchwood Season 3 – but UKTV is wholly owned by the BBC – and only available on Foxtel – the point is though, that it’s possible.

        Lastly, and the thing I’ve never understood in Australia is why they’re banging on about these extra digital channels when they are all owned by the current TV networks… so basically instead of 4 channels, I have 8. Does their income increase because they are broadcasting double?? It seems ridiculous, why aren’t they allowing overseas networks to broadcast?? They don’t want to allow them access to advertising revenue?? I just don’t get it.

        The truth of the matter is, the TV networks would like to think they can control our viewing to suit *their* agenda and manage their incomes and of course they don’t like it when people find ways around it, but they need to be smarter about it and not think that we’ll sit here watching some old re-runs and wait weeks or months to watch new seasons of our favourite shows.

        • Interesting view — but it entirely ignores rules surrounding local production quotas, the allocation of TV licences, and the fact that virtually no TV networks are global right now. No doubt the business models surrounding TV need to change, but that’ll take time.

          Note on Home & Away: more of its funding is provided by Channel Five in the UK than by Seven!

  • Here is an interesting situation…
    Is it wrong to download shows that the Australian networks have decided not to purchase?

    It doesn’t negatively affect income from the iternational broadcast rights and doesn’t reduce the number of American viewers. It is a victimless crime in my opinion

      • Atually isn’t part of the requirement for maintaining a legal copyright that the material is made available in the jurisdiction in which you are asserting copyright?
        If it’s not made available in Australia then I don’t see how copyright is enforceable.

  • Perhaps if the networks (esp in australia) advertised LESS, I might want to watch them on TV rather than using Channel BT. But no, they stuff the shows full of ads which makes it barely watchable.
    Hell, I didn’t mind paying the BBC license fee in the UK to get ad-free viewing and brilliant content. I wouldn’t mind paying that ANYWHERE to get ad-free content.

    Make it so.

  • Nice article and a good start on a FAQ on a popular subject. Two things occur to me – 1) the reason and 2) the method. The reason for restricting online content I’m sure is varied, I think your point of advertisers targeting specific countries is valid. But if it’s only about targeting viewer why not vary the advertisements based on IP – it’s not that hard to do, in any case the advertiser could build up multiple revenue streams to different locations.

    The 2nd point is the method – using geo-targeting of IP addresses is not exactly accurate, it’s simply a look up on a database of addresses- it relies on the information being accurate and it’s simply not the case. Then when Hulu put restrictions on using proxies they instantly cause problems for all the legitimate US users who happen to use proxies from school, college or work.

    Anyway like a few of your posters I use a paid service mainly for Iplayer, I’ve blogged about it here

    Check out the BBC stuff it’s wonderful viewing.


  • Answer seems simple enough to me. Hulu are just money grubbing bastards. This is just their way of telling the rest of the world F.U, if you cant pay us then we don’t want to know you.

  • I used to love using HotSpot Shield. Sadly, the performance is so slow these days (popularity can be a drag) that I’ve gone back to using torrents. I’d gladly watch American commercials to watch new content.

    From a European perspective American businesses operate completely counter to the free trade that America forces on other countries.

    I hope the situation changes sooner rather than later. We are otherwise doomed to watch 5-10 year old shows out of sequence and endlessly repeated for a long time to come.

  • Hi Angus

    people used to say the same thing about video tapes… “it will kill the TV industry”. this has proved to not be the case at all and the TV industry is now orders of magnitude larger than what it was when video tapes first came out.

    the flaw (if it could be termed as such) in the argument is that you implicitly assume that there can only be 2 models – the existing TV one and free, “illegal” , copy-based consumption (via downloads or otherwise). but this is hardly the case.

    TV companies are stuck in the past. the old world allowed them to dictate to us what we will watch, when and how. but we are now capable of (and are doing it every day) altering this model. and if we dont, TV companies will have no incentive to change their behaviour. the only thing that the current BT phenom will do is to force the content providers and distributors to be smarter and to cater for the way we want to watch shows not for the way they want us to. you only need to have noticed how local channels started showing high profile shows like Lost and Survivor within hours of the US broadcast.

    i would much rather pay a small fee per view than to pay a monthly subscription to a cable company like foxtel where most of what i watch is on FTA anyway and the rest is a pile of crap. if it wasnt for the kids watching disney channel i wouldn’t have foxtel at all. i would also rather transact with the content creators, bypassing and avoiding the extra cost that a distributor adds while adding no value.

    so it isnt about cheating TV companies out of revenue. it is about forcing them to come up with a model that suits us better. after all, without viewers they have no reason to exist.

    people are happy to pay for content they want and the sooner TV execs catch up to the idea the better off they’ll be. and if they dont then they deserve what they get

  • This blocking of TV based on where you are works both ways. I’m an Aussie living in England (my missus is English) and I can get all the Aussie radio shows, but when I try to view any of the TV shows they talk about like Underbelly, Australia’s Got Talent, Masterchef etc it says not available in your location. I can’t even see a way to subscribe to Aussie TV over here.

    I think I found more programs in Australia that were better than British TV, except some of their documentaries are really good where they explore history etc. But their comedy is OK, like QI, Friday Night Project but not as good as e.g. The Panel. And I still like The Footy Show and Hey Hey better than Top Gear. They seem to have this like for going through huge long lists whingeing about something or someone e.g. the Top 100 Most Disliked People etc. Course we get Neighbours and Home and Away here.

    Still homesick, but stuck here for a while, but it would be more bearable if I could watch the telly back home…

  • I’ve recently spent some time getting Hulu Plus going on my Apple TV in the UK. I host my own virtual server with Digital Ocean and this used to work great, but stopped at some point when Hulu decided to blacklist my US IP.

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, VPNs are not the right solution for streaming video. You should use a DNS/proxy solution, such as the one used by most commercial providers (Unblock US, etc.) or you can build one cheaply yourself using this guide I wrote:

    It uses Docker images, sniproxy and BIND DNS to deploy your personal (firewalled) smart DNS/proxy in a few clicks.

    New Digital Ocean IPs probably still work, so give it a go. If that doesn’t work, try Linode and if all fails Amazon AWS seems to be a reliable option (at least for me at the time of writing), although you’d have to tweak the instructions to deploy a server there yourself as it is slightly more complicated (and more expensive).

    Hope that helps!

    — ab1

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