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Updated: 19 May 2022

BBC iPlayer: BBC's catch-up TV service

Everything you need to know about the BBC iPlayer, from the available shows to how to use it.
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BBC iPlayer is the dedicated online hub for browsing BBC programmes and then streaming the content to various devices, including laptops, TVs, tablets and smartphones. 

The majority of people use the web version of BBC iPlayer on a PC or laptop, but you can just as easily get the service directly on your TV. Most smart TVs will have BBC iPlayer available as an app, or integrated into their electronic programme guide (EPG), enabling you to catch up on programmes on the big screen.

How to watch BBC iPlayer

One option is to access it using a smart TV - find out how this works and some of the other benefits to having your TV connected to the internet in our comprehensive guide to smart TVs.

You can also access iPlayer through a whole host of PVRs, internet streaming devices (such as Chromecast and the Amazon Fire Stick), Blu-ray players and games consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. Tempted to invest in a streaming device but not sure where to start? Read our guide on the best streaming devices.

Another option is combining your computer and TV by connecting them via a HDMI cable to watch the online version of iPlayer on the big screen.

If you'd prefer to catch your favourite show on the go, you can download BBC iPlayer apps on Apple, Android and Windows tablets and smartphones. Bear in mind that although all BBC iPlayer apps and variants share a common look and core functionality, the exact way they'll work and the features they offer will vary slightly from device to device.

You'll have to sign in to use BBC iPlayer on your computer, smart TV, mobile or tablet.

What can I watch on BBC iPlayer?

BBC programmes are generally available for a period after they've been broadcast, so you can use iPlayer to catch up on any shows you've missed. 

Catch up TV: Never miss a BBC programme again as iPlayer allows you to catch up on content via the online service and apps. You now get 30 days to watch most shows after they've been shown on BBC channels, though some BBC Three and BBC Four programmes are available for much longer. News bulletins and sports coverage can be available for shorter periods.

Alongside BBC iPlayer, the 30-day catch-up window is also available on BBC iPlayer Radio (more on that below).

Watch live TV: You can also use iPlayer to watch live BBC channels, including BBC One and BBC Two, over the internet. Select the TV Guide option from the homepage to see what's on right now across all of the BBC's channels. Streaming live TV will require a decent broadband connection - at least 1.5Mbps. Check whether your connection is up to par using our free broadband speed checker.

BBC iPlayer Exclusives: These are programmes that are only available on iPlayer. These can be available for more than 30 days.

It's important to note that you need a TV licence to use the iPlayer. For more, please see TV licence explained.

Can I download shows on BBC iPlayer?

If you're going on a long journey and won't have an internet connection, iPlayer enables you to download certain programmes to your computer or device to watch offline. just click the ‘download' option alongside each programme and you'll be prompted to get a BBC iPlayer Downloads widget. After this, you can download content to watch later. Bear in mind that the download time will depend on how long the programme is and whether it is in SD or HD.

BBC iPlayer tips and tricks

TV guide: A really handy feature of iPlayer is the integrated TV guide. This lets you scroll back through the last seven days of television programmes that have been broadcast and catch-up on shows that you've missed. Available programmes are highlighted in white text, just click on what you want and start watching.

Watch in HD: If your broadband can handle it (the BBC recommends at least 3.2Mbps) then you can stream certain content in HD. Depending on the version of iPlayer you're using, either select Watch in HD or toggle the HD on/off switch. You can also download programmes in HD to watch offline, although if you're using your phone's 3G connection, be wary of exceeding your data allowance.

Live Restart: If streaming live channels, a neat feature of iPlayer is being able to restart most live programmes from the beginning by clicking 'Restart the current programme'. So, even if you come into a programme that's been on for half an hour, you can just reload it to the start.

Search and favourites: If you know the name of the show you want to watch, you can use the search bar to find it. If it's a programme in a series you know you'll want to keep watching, simply click the star icon to save it to your personalised favourites page.

Enable subtitles: Most of the BBC's shows can be streamed with subtitles enabled. Depending on the type of device you're using, you can turn the subtitles on simply by clicking or tapping the ‘S' symbol while the content is playing.

Can I watch iPlayer content while abroad?

You can't stream programmes abroad - all BBC iPlayer content is only available in the UK. However, as covered above, you can download programmes to your device and take them away with you. Downloads usually remain available to watch for 30 days (depending on the content), so you can watch them at your leisure.

BBC Sounds and BBC Store

While iPlayer used to hold both radio and televisual content, the two were split - the core iPlayer handles television and BBC Sounds became the place to find all of the BBC's radio channels and podcasts.

Along with streaming stations such as Radio 1 and Radio 2 live, you can dip into the archives to enjoy radio programmes on-demand. BBC Sounds works in a similar way to the TV version, including the ability to download shows as podcasts to enjoy later. If you're looking for top notch headphones to use while listening to your favourite radio programme, read our guide on the most reliable headphone brands.

Another part of the BBC's online services is the BBC Store. This is a bit like iTunes for all the BBC's programmes, enabling you to buy content in the same way you'd purchase it on a DVD.

This digital video online shop has entire series – contemporary and classic – to buy to keep on your computer or other device. Any purchases you make are made available to watch through iPlayer itself.