Stephen Foley: Doctor Who knows no borders

US Outlook: I would have been quite happy to cut a cheque for £145.50 this week. Or $222.60, for that matter. The BBC is always on the list when expat conversation turns to what we miss about the Old Country, and you find few dissenters on the value-for-money Brits get from the licence fee. Maybe we should be allowed to help with Auntie's little funding difficulties.

The UK's world-leading push to put television on the internet, led by the iPlayer, has brought the BBC tantalisingly close to those far away. Of course, the corporation blocks computers overseas, so it can say that the benefits of the licence fee are being felt only in the UK. But I never saw a ban on internet access that didn't immediately prompt a geek somewhere to find a way round it, and the popularity of the iPlayer back home has spawned a lot of chatter over here about proxy servers.

By buying access to a UK-based proxy, and hooking your computer to it over the internet, you can watch BBC shows to your heart's content – and access other channels' catch-up services, and the music streamer Spotify, for that matter. Free proxies are legion, but there are also more professional options springing up, charging, ironically, about the same as the licence fee.

Even if this were just an amusing curiosity for expats, it would be significant, since there are more than 5 million of us. Except that something bigger is going on. Broadcast towers may beam to the edges of the country and no further, but digital media travels the world at light speed.

The makers of music videos, TV shows and movies still think nationally: rights are negotiated country by country, TV shows are sold again and again to broadcasters in different nations, film releases are staggered. But file-sharing already knows no borders, and fans anywhere in the world will be able to download tonight's Doctor Who thanks to BitTorrent, and watch it before the evening is out. It only airs on BBC America on 17 April, when Auntie will finally get her first bit of overseas revenue from the programme.

Technology will roll right over those "Not available in your country" notices in due course. As the music industry found out a decade ago, content providers that say no to their customers are inevitably punished. Broadcasters are much more savvy, and are experimenting with all manner of ways to distribute their content online, but so far within borders, rather than across them.

I bet it won't just be expats who clamour for access to the BBC on the web, given its international reputation. It could find whole new audiences willing to pony up a "licence fee" for a subscription to the iPlayer, and certainly enough to offset some of the cost pressures facing it at home. Instead of shutting itself off at the border, it should go on a marketing offensive, before the couch potatoes of the world unite.

Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments