The reason is that the BBC like most other media companies who operate online use a technology called geotargeting. It sounds a complicated, geeky term but it isn't really. It's short for geographical targeting and is a way for a website to display different content to different readers. It's probably best illustrated with an example. The following is a screenshot of a search I ran in Google for 'Plumbers'
Google has determined that I'm using in the UK and decided to show me lots plumbers in and around the London area.
But lets change my IP address to a different country and run the query again. For this one I'll change my address to an IP address in the United States.
This time Google has decided that I'm in Arizona (it's actually where this IP address is registered to - so logically has decided to show me lots of plumbers and adverts for plumbers from within Arizona. Loads of web sites do this which is normally great, but of course can be annoying when they block you from accessing content based on your location.
Everyone of the main media sites do this, Hulu, ABC, NBC in the US, BBC1, ITV and the other UK stations in Britain and virtually every major broadcaster across the world. It's getting more common too in other areas, with companies trying to offer different pricing models dependent on your location.
So How Do Web Sites Determine if I Have a UK IP address or a US one?
Well it's actually quite simple, they simply record your IP address when you connect and look it up in big country directory database. It's actually very easy to set up yourself on your own site if you wish. You can download the IP address database here from a company like Maxmind, then load it into a spreadsheet or database and look up addresses from there. Most websites will either pay for a service or just run their own scripts against this database to determine which location your IP address is registered to.
There are other more sophisticated methods but largely this or a variant is the one utilized by most companies online - obviously depends on your budget. Many companies now are investing heavily in this technology.
So to bypass these restrictions you need to ensure that your IP address is from the correct location - this is very usually the country of origin. So for example
- Hulu - US Address
- BBC - UK Address
- Pandora - US Address
- ABC - US Address
- CTV - Canadian Address
- RTE - Irish Address
- M6 Replay - French Address
Originally people used proxy servers that they found online, these are computers which sit in between the web site and your PC. They are commonly used in corporate and educational networks as a barrier to the internet. If you can access the internet at work it is almost certainly through a proxy server. However the ones available online are very dangerous to use as they are often used to steal information and spread viruses - the ones that aren't are nearly always extremely overloaded and too slow for accessing video.
There was obviously a gap in the market! So many of us spend so much time online, for entertainment, research and for work - and our addresses are used to block, restrict and filter what we do online. The requirement was filled by hundreds of proxy/VPN providers who offered a commercial service which you could use to shield your real IP address when you needed to.
There's literally hundreds of these companies now, many market themselves quite openly as TV proxy services (you should be careful with these as they can be shut down overnight). The more sophisticated option is the security software which are generally better run, also offer a wide range of country IP addresses (rather than one or two) and a faster infrastructure.
My recommendation is Identity Cloaker whose software is easy to use and offers access to servers in about a dozen different countries (including USA, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and quite a few more). With a click of a button you can change your address to a US or UK IP address or whatever you require. Their trial offer is here - Identity Cloaker or if you want to see it running - I've got a video demonstration here - of me watching BBC Iplayer abroad in Turkey.
There are loads of others though, I do favor the ones that have developed their own software and are proper tax paying companies. Too many of the sites are set up by a kid from his bedroom with a cheap hosting and a mate who's really good at web design !!
Updated - May 29th - 2013