Trying to watch French TV channels when you don’t live in France can be a real challenge. Most channels available online apply geographical restrictions so you cannot watch them outside France. You would think they wanted as many people as possible to be able to access their content, but the fact is that they are not allowed to broadcast outside their territory for licencing reasons: If for example they are showing episodes of The Simpsons, the licence they acquired only allows them to broadcast within their territory so as not to compete with other channels that acquired the rights in their own territories.
Channels that are easily accessible
The good news is that geographical restrictions do not apply to channels producing their own content for their exclusive use – news networks for example. This is why you can watch channels such as BFMTV, France 24, or Euronews without any problem. Besides, BFMTV has an excellent free app that allows you to watch their live feed (search for ‘BFMTV’ in your app store).
Another great channel is TV5 Monde which broadcasts selected programmes from French-speaking countries (France, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland…) In their case, they have negotiated worldwide rights with the respective programme producers. The channel is widely available via satellite and cable (Sky or Virgin on the UK). Check out the TV5 Monde website to check how you can receive it in your country.
Unfortunately, it’s not currently possible to watch TV5 Monde live online, but you can view news programmes on their website as well as a wide selection of videos on their YouTube channel. You will also find a section for French teachers with video clips and educational resources to exploit them.
Arte is another interesting channel with programmes in both French and German. Arte is a public Franco-German TV network that promotes programming in the area of culture and the arts. You can watch live and catch up TV via their website and there is also an Arte app for mobile devices and well as for Smart TVs.
French TV via satellite
If you’d like to receive the main channels (TF1, France 2, M6…), the most straightforward way is to get a satellite dish. In the UK, companies such as Fransat or Totalsat can install a dish for around £250. If installing a satellite dish is not practical (e.g. you live in a flat) or out of your price range, there are subscription services such as Téléfrance allowing you to watch a small selection of French channels online and via your Smart TV for £6.99 monthly.
Using a Virtual Private Network
If you’ve tried to view French catch-up TV (or ‘replay’ as it’s called in French – e.g. TF1 Replay, Pluzz by France Télévisions or 6 Play), you will have noticed that all of them apply geographical restrictions. If you want to get around those restrictions, you will need to be a bit tech-savvy. To start with, you will need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which redirects your connection to the Internet via a remote server run by a VPN provider such as Nord VPN. By connecting to a remote server based in France, you will be able to access content normally only available if you are in France. For more details, check the Nord VPN website.
Using a Virtual Private Network is legal in the vast majority of countries but note that authorities consider it illegal in China, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Oman, Iran, North Korea and Turkmenistan.