Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online




We live in a hyper-connected world.
Combining language learning with entertainment has never been so easy!
With one click, you can immediately immerse yourself in German.
Love aimlessly browsing YouTube videos? Done.
Fancy listening to German podcasts or radio? Be my guest.
How about blogs for German students? Nothing easier than that.
Hollywood movies with German dubbing?
Not. A. Problem.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

How to Watch German TV Online

Among all forms of entertainment, TV still carries a leading role in today’s world. No matter which country you’re in, watching series and shows on television is likely a national pastime.
I’m especially looking at you, Americans.
Americans were word-leaders in TV consumption in 2011, clocking in with a daily average watching time of nearly five hours. Five hours!
That’s a lot of time spent in front of the telly.

However, even in the countries coming in last on the list, people still watched a little more than two hours of television every day. That’s 14 hours per week, about 56 hours per month and 730 hours per year. ----- Hours and hours of time that could be spent studying German!

By now you’ve probably already guessed where this is going, right? Germans watch TV too, so why not combine TV time with study time by watching German language programs?

The Problem with Watching German TV Online

Watching television shows in German is a great way of learning new vocabulary, phrases and extending your German knowledge while enjoying yourself.m The Internet will make this an easy task, generally speaking.  However, in contrast to other forms of learning, gaining access to TV shows in German isn’t as easy as you would think it is.

With the online world being what it is, you’d think that German TV shows are just a click away. After all, most TV stations now offer their content online. While that’s true for anyone within the country, outside of Germany there are several hurdles you’ll have to leap in order to get your German TV fix.

Navigating Public and Private TV channels
First of all there’s the fact that Germany’s TV landscape is divided into public stations, which are funded by German tax Euros, and private stations, which finance themselves through advertisements. While the objective of public TV programming is to provide a service to everyone, private TV stations aim to be profitable. Therefore, the latter are much more guarded with the content they make available for free on the Internet.

Tricky Licensing Obstacles
In addition to that privatization issue, a lot of the programming shown on German television comes from external sources. For example, Germans love American TV shows as much as the rest of the world does. How I Met Your Mother and Breaking Bad are German audience favorites and are broadcasted on television stations frequently, complete with German voice-overs.
The issue with these kinds of imported shows? The licenses the stations obtain for the shows are usually limited, meaning that the stations are only allowed to distribute the show within the country they serve. While they’re free to do whatever they want with the stuff they produce on their own, movies and series from other countries are bound by their contracts.

Geoblocking
As a consequence of these licences and contracts, stations have to make sure their content is only distributed within the agreed parameters. To do so, they employ so-called geoblocking. What this means is that content on their websites is blocked from usage for any IP address outside of Germany. Consequently, if you want to improve your German through watching TV without moving to its country of origin, you’ll be looking at a lot of messages that say your content can unfortunately not be delivered to you.

Is It Possible to Get Around Geoblocking?

There are ways around this pesky technology, and it’s actually not that hard to manage. A number of services and apps allow you to “pretend” that you’re inside Germany’s borders. With these, you’ll be able to watch any German TV shows and content online that you want. However, before we get started with that it’s time for a little disclaimer.

Legal Considerations
Overall, this is a grey area which varies by jurisdiction, and you’ll have to decide for yourself.
But you probably still want to know: are you really allowed to do so?
While I’m no expert on this, my research says “probably.”
Again, be aware, however, that the legal situation in your country might be different.
First of all, the usage of the services listed below is, in and of itself, completely legal. It’s no crime to mask your location with the help of software and stay anonymous.
Secondly, while downloading copyrighted material is a crime in Germany, streaming it is in a legal grey zone.

However, if you do get around geoblocking in order to watch German television that blocked for your country, this can constitute a violation of the terms of the website you’re using. Whether that’ll lead to any serious negative consequences is a whole other question.

Available Services and Apps to Circumvent Geoblocking

With that in mind, below are a few pieces of software which will allow you to act like you are trying to access the programming from a location in Germany.
And if you’re a German learner looking for a simpler solution that doesn’t involve circumventing geoblocking, you should take a look at FluentU.
FluentU lets you learn German with authentic videos like music videos, movie trailers, news, and inspiring talks. FluentU takes native German videos and turns them into language learning lessons.

Where You Can Watch German TV Online

Now that we can pretend to be in Germany, it’s time to find out where all the good TV programming is. In general, you have four choices: media services from TV channels in Germany, live streams, video on demand platforms and online video recorders.
Some services on this list are freely available in their entirety or in part for anyone, anywhere. Others will require you to use one of the aforementioned ways to get around the geoblock. It’s up to you to experiment and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Media Services From German TV Channels

ARD Mediathek
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online1 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Large
  • Price: Free
The ARD is Germany’s first public broadcasting station. Its website includes the programming of almost all public TV channels. Since it’s financed by tax money, there’s no advertisement which is a big plus. The ARD’s programming focuses on informative pieces and documentaries. In Germany, a lot of people watch it for the Tagesschau (daily news), the crime series Tatort (only watchable after 8 p.m. Germany time) and soccer games. Watching live TV is also possible.  They also have a fabulous selection of children's movies and fairytales.

ZDF Mediathek
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Large
  • Price: Free
ZDF stands for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (Second German Television) and it was — you guessed it — Germany’s second TV broadcaster. Just like the ARD, it’s funded by the public and therefore provides a mix of information and entertainment free of ads. Tune in to the heute-show, which is a Daily Show kind of program.

ProSieben Video
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online2 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Small
  • Price: Free, ads
ProSieben is a part of Germany’s biggest private TV network. Since the channel finances itself through advertisement, prepare for a lot of it. Fans of American TV series will strike it rich here. Grey’s Anatomy, 2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother and other bestselling shows are all available — with German dubbing, mind you! However, the network seems to have abandoned the practice of showing entire episodes on their website. Fear not, below are ways to watch them anyway.

Sat 1 Mediathek
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online1 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Small
  • Price: Free, ads
As a subsidiary of ProSieben, the site is quite similar. However, the programming is different. The quality of Sat 1‘s content is somewhat less than that of its bigger sibling. On the other hand, a lot of their self-produced material is freely available.

RTL Now
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online2 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Medium
  • Price: Free, ads
Germany’s third largest TV channel also offers ample online material. The focus here is a lot on tabloid-like infotainment. If you want to see something extra bizarre, consider checking out Bauer sucht Frau. It’s a reality dating show about German farmers looking for love. No, I’m not kidding. Plenty of opportunity for fremdschämen.

Live Streams
Zattoo
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online3 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Small, larger with Premium account
  • Price: Free, from 9,99€/month for premium account
Zattoo allows you to watch many different TV channels as live streams. Besides German national channels, it also offers regional and international programming. The free version is kind of limited. For example, with unpaid access almost all private German TV channels are blocked. The quality of the ones that do work is very good though.

Schoener Fernsehen
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online3 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Large
  • Price: Free
This one’s another service that collects many different channels in one place and lets you stream their programming live. Surprisingly almost all private German TV channels can be found here including ProSieben and Sat 1. If you feel like watching your favorite US series without the actors’ lips fitting their speech, this is your best bet.

Video-on-demand services
MySpass
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online4 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Medium
  • Price: Free
MySpass is a nice selection of German sitcoms and comedy shows. Highlights include Stromberg, which is Germany’s version of The Office, TV Total, a German late night show akin to Kimmel, Fallon & Co, as well a wide range of spinoffs which have come out of that show. These include (and I kid you not) celebrity platform diving and the world championship in “woksledding”.
You can find a longer list of video-on-demand services in the article on how to watch German dubbed movies. All of them carry their share of German series or series from other countries with German dubbing. However, generally speaking, the amount of available content is relatively small. Even so, it’s still worth a look.

Online Video Recorders
Online video recorders work just like your old VCR (remember those?). They allow you to record any show running on German television. However, instead of putting the recording on a video cassette, your content gets saved in the cloud ready for you to download or stream. Easy peasy. Some of them will even cut all advertisement from the content.
There’s a legal battle going on regarding whether or not these services should be allowed to exist at all. Especially private TV stations aren’t big fans of them. However, at this point in time, with many details still hanging in the air, it’s completely legal to use them.

OnlineTvRecorder.com
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online5 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Large, programming from 123 TV stations
  • Price: Free, Premium accounts available
This service has the largest selection on the list. However, keep in mind that not all of the 123 TV stations are German. Drawbacks to using this service are the complex interface and payment system. However, it’s made easier by the fact that you can use it in several languages.

Bong.tv
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online6 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Unknown
  • Price: Free test account, then from 4.99€/month
This service provides content only from German TV channels. You can test it for a week for free. All content is saved in the cloud and can be either downloaded or streamed directly from a large number of devices.

Shift.tv
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online7 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Small, 38 channels
  • Price: Free test account, then from 4.95€/month
Shift.tv boasts that you can access anything you have them record from anywhere in the world. Good news for international German students it seems. --- Test it free for seven days.
Save.tv
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online4 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
  • Selection: Small, 47 TV stations
  • Price: From 4.99€/month
With a slightly larger channel selection than some of its competitors, Save.tv also offers a longer test period of 14 days. The service removes advertisement from all content you record, so there’s no need for the fast forward button. Streaming is also available on iOS and Android devices.

Other Services

Deutsche Welle
how to hack through geoblocking and watch german tv online5 The Ultimate Guide to Watching German TV Online
Deutsche Welle isn’t actually a TV station but Germany’s official public international broadcast. Its goal is to inform people around the world about Germany as well as help them learn the language. A large number of shows can be watched on many different topics. One of the highlights is the “slowly-spoken news” program, which helps German students practice their listening and stay up to date on current events.

Get the Most Out of Watching German TV Online

Although getting access to TV programming from Germany seems harder than it should be at first, it’s far from impossible. Artificial country barriers online can be circumvented and the large quantity of available content does more than make up for the extra effort you have to put in.

Not only does access to German TV channels mean you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite series with German voices, you can also catch a unique glimpse into what’s considered entertainment on German television. Whether that’s better or worse than what’s going on in your own country’s broadcasting landscape is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

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