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A Guide to watching international TV Channels in continental Europe

Updated on May 16, 2012

Free Sat Europe

This is a rough guide to watching international TV channels in Europe.

Free sat Europe is opening up the channels we can watch. All you need is a freesat receiver and a satellite dish. You may need to get someone in to set the LNB on your satellite dish to point exactly at the required satellite. It’s not the same as pointing a TV antenna and adjusting it until you find the best picture. The dish needs pin-point accuracy.

At an angle of about 28 degrees E are a cluster of satellites. Astra 1, astra 2 , hotbird,eurobird, Sirius 4 among others. Hispasat sits at 30 degrees W. I’m not an expert on satellites; sufficient to know there is more than one so if you try to set it up yourself, you will need to read up on European satellites to see which one suits you best.

Further information can be found here:

1.9M sat dish
1.9M sat dish

What size dish

Astra 1 on an 80cm dish will pick up about 150 free to air channels, and about another 150 encoded, which you would then need a subscription to watch. The vast majority of the channels are in foreign languages, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew etc, but even with a little dish there is an excellent picture on CNN, Sky News International, BBC World, and a few other English speaking news channels.

Astra 2 transmits all your British TV channels, as well as many others broadcast in English. With a 120cm dish you can pick many of these channels up, but to watch British television you really need a giant 2.4M dish, if you live further south than N. Spain.

This is because the British TV channels, including the BBC, believe they are not allowed to broadcast to a wider area than the British Isles alone, and so broadcast on a tight band pointing toward the UK, though there is natural spillage on to a wider area which if you have the correct equipment, you can pick up.

Until recently, you needed a Sky box to watch British TV, but with the advent of Freesat Europe, all the free to air channels can be watched, depending on your dish size.

Spanish TV

Obviously everything is in Spanish, or dubbed in Spanish, but they show many programs from around the world. Canal 9 (a Valenciano channel) has just finished a re-run of Walker, Texas Ranger. The Dick van Dyke series, Diagnosis Murder runs on digital TV if you have a digital box. Many films are shown dubbed in Spanish. I have watched Braveheart and Freddie Kruger to name two, but basically all the big films get shown at some point or another.

Even if you don’t speak a lot of Spanish, it is easy to follow American films online because they slow their normally rapid speech down to match the slower speaking English mouth movements.

Terrestial digi boxes are great. You can change the language back to English if the show or film was originally recorded in English. I have watched part of the ‘Lost’ series on digital TV. ‘Lost’ was also shown on terrestrial TV here in Spain, as was ‘Weeds’, another fantastic American show.

Whereas terrestrial Spanish TV normally shows 5 or 6 channels, the digital boxes can pick up another 30 or so, maybe more depending on where you live.

Many Spanish programs are very good, especially their cookery programs. It is a good way to learn how to cook Spanish dishes. They also have very good ‘soap operas’, the types of series in which actors play the part of ordinary working folk living out their lives, always with a good storyline incorporating many of the natural events that happen in real-life – births, marriages, deaths, debts, repossessions, joblessness, romances, affairs, etc.

I’ve never understood why Britain’s longest soap opera, Coronation Street, has never been bought by foreign TV channels.

Dutch TV

I was disappointed by the Dutch channels I now have access to through Free Sat. I know several Dutch people who speak perfect English, and they all say they learnt the language through watching television, as Holland has a policy of not dubbing English-speaking films. Unfortunately, all the Dutch programs/films I now have access to, are dubbed in Dutch, including ‘Friends’.

Italian TV

I once watched ‘The Godfather’ or at least a version of it on Italian Free sat TV. That was a strange experience. Half of the film was in Italian, and half was in English, the two languages intermingled at all times. What was that all about?


If there is a big match on somewhere in Europe, and it is tied to some pay-per-view channel, there is every chance that if you look around Free-Sat you will find the game being relayed by some minority language station. If you know your football, the language the commentators use is not of much importance.

2.4M dish - must be set in concrete
2.4M dish - must be set in concrete
sky box
sky box

Sky TV

You don’t need a subscription to watch Sky TV. All you need is a Sky box and with a big enough dish you will pick up all the free-to-air channels. I lent my Sky card to a friend recently (my Sky card is lapsed) to see if he got any more channels with it than without. With the card, he could pick up Channel 5 and some other channel, I can’t remember which.

Until recently, I had a Sky subscription, and that entitled me to watch almost all their channels, and there are 1000 of them. Most I wasn’t interested in; and when I gave up the bar I no longer need Sky Sports. ITV, BBC, Channels 4 and 5 etc are all free to air. Most of these channels lose their signal late evening.

BBC2 and BBC1 Scotland both transmit on a horizontal beam and are very difficult to get, if at all.

Sky are not allowed to sell their package outside of the UK, so everybody has to register their card to a UK address. Sky knows what goes on, but won’t take steps to disconnect your card unless you are stupid enough to phone for help using a foreign line.

One of Sky’s senior management used to be a regular in my bar when he came on holiday, and he always said that Sky knows fine what goes on, but only disconnect if someone leaves proof that they are using it abroad, and a recorded call is proof. They are more worried about their regulators coming down on them. He himself planned to retire to Cyprus, with his Sky box and subscription.

While a Sky box can be used to pick up other foreign language channels, I suspect it only their engineers know exactly how. Sky comes with the channels preset, and that is why I prefer to use a Free sat Box because my partner has no interest in English language channels, so we prefer to easily change from one language channel to another. The only problem is that without a motorised dish, which is expensive, we have to choose one satellite to point to, and while I prefer Astra 2, astra 1 or hispasat is better for him.

Update on Sky March 2010

Sky have recently brought out a new 'white' card (mine is blue), and I am assured my blue card will no longer work. Sky previously worked without a card, allowing you to view a few British free-to-air channels like BBC and ITV, but the blue card also allowed you to pick up Channel 5.

The solution to this is either to pay a company to provide you with a new white card, or get a relative in the UK to get one for you - depending on the address your Sky box is registered to.

However, unless you want to pay a subscription for Sky (for Sky Movies or Sport, for example), this is of really no importance nowadays, as an ordinary Free-Sat Digital Box will pick up all the free-to-air channels with a suitably sized dish.

BBC1 half width picture - can also be watched full screen
BBC1 half width picture - can also be watched full screen
as you can see in this grainy picture it runs away with bandwidth
as you can see in this grainy picture it runs away with bandwidth

Internet TV

I recently discovered broadband internet TV at who offer free TV, including BBC and ITV. You can choose to pay a subscription for prime TV with films and adult content. They transmit in HD which is great if you have an HD graphics card like me, and like Sky+, the live TV can be paused if someone comes to the door, or you have to go to the loo or whatever.

This is available the world over, so if you are an expat Brit living in the US, Canada or Australia it should work just as well, and yes they show Coronation Street!

You can choose Low Speed if your internet connection is slow, or High Speed if your connection is fast, both give quality pictures.

My trouble with it is that I am limited to 5Gbs of traffic per month, and could use all that in a single evening’s viewing.

It will be great when I finally get a phone line and a fixed ADSL connection. No sign of that happening yet. I’ve only waited 7 years so far. It also means that when I lose my free sat signal late in the evening, I can watch it online instead.

Using, I can also watch BBC2, the channel that is almost impossible to get using Sky or other satellite receiver.

The other way to watch TV is to download the programs using torrent files. I don’t think this is illegal. I myself have watched many programs this way. Lost, Weeds, Merlin, Coronation Street, Medium, Benidorm, the X Factor etc. It’s especially good for downloading American programs, because by the time they hit British television, they are usually a whole series behind.

I normally use hotspots to download, because of the restrictions on bandwidth on my own service. So you really need a laptop to do this not using your own service. Another reason why I can’t wait for a land-line with unlimited downloading.

A final mention to the Australians reading this.

You are responsible for  Neighbours, extremely popular with the teens and tweens in the UK, and Home and Away , but I especially used to like Cell Block H!

Added March 2010

I was asked by a reader about the availability of Premier League football on Free Sat Europe, and this I have scant knowledge of, not being a footie fan.

As I have said above, there are the odd channels show the big football games, but without a TV Guide I have no clue what channels are showing what or when. I can only say I have been able to find the matches after kick-off by channel hopping.

I do know that many bars in Benidorm show the big games through Arab TV when it can't be seen on either Sky Sports or BBC or ITV, and that they only require a small dish to pick these channels up.

I searched google for the Arab channels and sure enough, the information seems to be out there but again, I do not how they can know in advance what games are on. Perhaps soomeone can enlighten me so that I can add it here?


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