How to download BBC iPlayer videos and radio programmes

Abstract (Italiano): Scrivo questo articolo in inglese perché (ovviamente) la registrazione dei video della BBC interessa maggiormente le persone che parlano inglese. Se lasciate un commento, gentilmente fatelo in inglese.

Abstract (English): I’m writing this post in English because (obviously) recording BBC videos is mostly of interest for those who speak English. Also, a small note for native speakers, especially British people: I’m Italian and I’m mostly used to write using American spelling. For this reason, the post may contain mistakes or American words which may seem unusual. I’m sorry for that. If you find errors (apart from AE spelling) let me know in the comments.

Update (30 April 2017): Version 4.0 of the script is out, which is mostly rewritten from scratch and leverages youtube-dl instead of ffmpeg. I’ve updated this post accordingly.

Introduction

I already wrote about downloading videos from the BBC and Hulu websites (in Italian), however it was about two years ago. Websites change and so does software, hence the suggested method of using get_flash_videos does not work anymore.

I also wrote a generic article about downloading videos from websites (in Italian, too) that contains many different use cases and examples. One of my readers asked for clarification about recording iPlayer videos, so I tried again myself. I was able to apply some of the techniques of my post, together with a couple of clever tricks to find the maximum quality.

Since the process is a bit involved, I wrote a small software which automates all the steps and tells you how to start the recording immediately. This program is actually a so called user script, i.e. a piece of software that runs directly into your browser.

This article explains how to download and install the script. Then it shows you how to use it and what you need to do to record BBC iPlayer videos. Before we start, you need to be able to trick the BBC website into thinking you are living in the UK. If you are actually living there, skip the next section.

Pretending to be in the UK

The BBC iPlayer service is officially available only in the United Kingdom. The website will check your IP address and refuse access if you are trying to watch content from another country. To fix this problem, you need to use a technique to access the site through a server in the UK.

Usually the best tool for the job is a VPN service. VPNs are used to establish secure connections to private networks over the Internet, but may also be used to avoid geographical restrictions of websites.

There are many different VPN services. Most of them are paid (although cheap), while some are free. Among the best options, you can:

  • use VPNGate by choosing a node in the UK
  • use CyberGhost with free UK servers
  • use VPNOneClick
  • get a cheap lifetime deal for a professional VPN, such as:

CyberGhost is an interesting VPN service with a convenient free tier for Android devices, Windows and OS X. Unfortunately, the free option is not officially available for the operating system everyone should be using, i.e. Linux. I plan to investigate a bit more about this severe limitation.

Luckily, I also wrote a Python script for easily using VPNGate by specifying only the desired country which works perfectly on any Linux distribution, including Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, OpenSuse and Mageia. You can check it out here.

You may also try VPN OneClick, which lists UK among the servers. Regardless of what VPN service you choose, once it is activated, you are ready to go on and start recording videos from iPlayer.

Script installation

To run the user script in your browser, you need to install an extension. This varies depending on your browser. The following are recommended:

After this step, you can click the following link to open the script page on Greasyfork. On the page that shows up, click on the Install this script button to complete the procedure.

Download — BBC iPlayer video download

You are now ready to start downloading.

Recording videos

The next time you open a video page on iPlayer, you’ll see that the script adds a box under it with some instructions and a command line. The following pictures shows an example with this video.

bbc_download_youtube-dl
Example of the output of the script

The command line displayed in the gray box is a one-liner you can use together with youtube-dl. This is a software used to convert and record video files, which can be installed on any of the common Linux distributions such as Ubuntu. More informations are available on the official website.

Despite its name, it does not work only for YouTube, it works for many other websites as well. My script uses it because it can download DASH streams served through a MPD file easily. The program can download some BBC videos without the need of my script, however the latter:

  • works on many pages where youtube-dl doesn’t recognize the stream URL
  • provides you with converted SRT subtitles on the fly, thanks to its internal converter

Remember that you will still need ffmpeg installed on your system. Check out its official website here.

To start the download:

  • carefully copy the entire content of the gray box (and nothing else)
  • paste it into a terminal window
  • press Enter and wait until the process is over

Keep in mind that this will create a lot of temporary files, but they will get removed automatically at the end.

It is also possible to download the videos on Windows or macOS. On Windows you just need to create a new file called download.bat (with Notepad, or any other editor) in the same directory of youtube-dl.exe and copy-paste the command line into it. After that, you click the bat file and it should start downloading.

However, please note that I do not offer any assistance for Windows or macOS here on the blog. If in doubt, please use Linux, or find an expert to help you with your OS. You can find the installation instructions of youtube-dl by clicking here.

Recording radio programmes

Starting from version 3.2, the script supports radio programmes such as those provided by BBC School Radio. The process is exactly the same as recording a video, including the command line. The files are in M4A format as provided by the BBC (no conversion is performed).

Conclusion

The script I developed allows to automate all the necessary steps required to ensure the highest possible quality during the downloading. In particular, the script does the following:

  • find the configuration of the player for mobile phones
  • get the list of DASH manifests for different bitrates
  • look for the best available bitrate for desktop computers
  • show the command line to the user

Performing the process manually is time consuming, error-prone and tedious if done multiple times. In this way it should be much easier for those who just want to record a couple of videos to watch them with a modern TV, on the train or keep them in a personal library.

Moreover, starting from version 3.0 the script shows you a download link to the original subtitles in TTML format (which is not very widespread). In addition, it performs an automatic conversion to the commonly used SRT format for your convenience.

Happy downloading! 🙂

Did you like the article?

Writing software and tutorials like this takes time. If you found the provided information useful, and you liked the post, you may buy me a coffee by clicking on the button. 🙂 If you do so, please leave a message on the donation page telling me it’s for this script.

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155 pensieri su “How to download BBC iPlayer videos and radio programmes

  1. Rocky Dennis, please can you check the latest version of the script? It fixes some issues on radio programmes.

    a2006, you cannot download from abroad. Fix your IP address first.

  2. Hello Andrea, thank you so much for your wonderful script. Can you help me please? I have two problems:
    First with the radio, I am having issues with the format. I have no problems downloading but they show as text file on my mac. Which is not a problem because I change by adding “.m4a” and then the system recognises them as music file. However iTunes refuses the play it. In fact only VLC seems to be able to play the file regardless of the suffix. Actually even VLC struggles a little because unlike an ordinary file there’s always a short wait before playing the file or when I skip back or forward

    My other issue is with the videos. With the previous version I could simultaneously downloaded many episodes of the same show. Now I cannot anymore because I receive the file as simply “name of the show”, without the episode name like before. I’m not sure it makes sense. Is this normal? I now have to download files one by one because otherwise the cancel each other. Well I think that’s what it’s doing. I hope it makes sense. I’m sorry I’m not very technical.

    I’m so sorry, I hope this message makes sense. I hope you can help. Thank you so much for what you do! ❤

  3. Hi Iris. I try to answer you so maybe I save Andrea some time 🙂

    Regarding the audio files, I just downloaded one and seen the format is mpeg-4 audio. I tried to add different extensions and the one that seemed to work best and be more compatible is mp4. That way both VLC and iTunes read it with no issues.

    When downloading the video files the only thing you need to do to avoid them overwriting each other is to change the name at the end of the script link, when you paste it into the terminal. The very last bit will name your file, just change it with numbers or something to identify the file. Remember that the name cannot contain spaces so you need to use underscore _ or other symbols to separate the words.

    Hope this is helpful, let me know
    And thank you Andrea for your great work!

  4. Iris, please check Matteo’s answer as well because it is very well written (thank you, Matteo!).

    Regarding the extension, can you provide a URL so I can try with the same episodes as you are saving? The name of audio and video files is made from a “title” piece of metadata embedded on the content itself. There might be some way to get it a bit more precise, but again can you provide a URL? 🙂

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