iPlayer: shows, live TV, sports and films, and how to access the BBC's streaming service

BBC iPlayer
(Image credit: BBC)

BBC's online streaming service is iPlayer, and you can use this service to catch up on its TV shows and films, as well as watch live TV and sports through the power of the internet.

The BBC's equivalent to ITVX, iPlayer is really useful as a way to catch up on the British broadcaster's content, including shows it's made itself as well as other content from around the world that it's the distributor of.

iPlayer is one of the oldest streaming services on the block, first seeing the light of day in 2007 — that's the same year that Netflix went online, with that company transitioning from DVDs to streamed content.

So if you're browsing around the best streaming services to pick something to watch, or need to use iPlayer but are a little confused, here's how to use the BBC's streaming service.

iPlayer price

A commonly-asked question about iPlayer is its price. iPlayer isn't free, even though you can easily open the website online and start watching videos.

That's because you need to pay your licence fee to watch BBC's iPlayer, even if you're doing it on a smartphone or laptop.

As of 2022 a licence fee is £159 per year, and you need it to access programming from the BBC and ITV — this includes live channels and on-demand streaming services like iPlayer or ITVX. 

Certain people can apply for discounted or free licence fee like those over the age of 75, people living in sheltered accommodation and those receiving Pension Credit.

The Office cast

The Office is a classic sit-com, available to watch on iPlayer (Image credit: BBC)

iPlayer live TV

You can use iPlayer to watch live TV, letting you view video from 12 channels over the internet.

The function is a little hidden on iPlayer's web browser though. To view live TV go to the iPlayer home menu (opens in new tab), click Channels along from the iPlayer logo, click on the logo of the channel you want to watch, and then click 'watch live'.

Alternatively you can press 'TV Guide' and find your channel from here.

On apps, like on a smart TV, phone or games console, the process is a lot easier.

The following TV and radio channels are available on iPlayer.

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • BBC Four
  • BBC Radio 1
  • CBBC
  • CBeebies
  • BBC Scotland
  • BBC News
  • BBC Parliament
  • BBC Alba
  • S4C

iPlayer TV shows

iPlayer plays host to plenty of BBC shows on demand, letting you catch up on episodes you missed or stream entire seasons of shows.

These include modern TV shows like Waterloo Road, Happy Valley and SAS: Rogue Heroes, as well as older ones like Gavin and Stacey, The Office and The Young Ones. See our best BBC drama guide for all the best dramas available.

Chlo Charles (KATIE GRIFFITHS), Izzy Charles (SCARLETT THOMAS), Tommy Charles (ELIJAH BLUE SLATER) & Donte Charles (ADAM THOMAS)

Waterloo Road is available to stream on iPlayer (Image credit: BBC/Wall To Wall/Rope Ladder Fiction/David Gennard)

Shows include dramas, comedies and documentaries, so you've got a wide range of things to watch.

You can find the entire iPlayer library here (opens in new tab).

iPlayer TV films

As well as a broad range of TV shows, iPlayer also offers a selection of films that you can watch, generally ones that have aired on a BBC channel recently.

At the time of writing this includes fairly recent movies like Spider Man: Far From Home and Ready Player One, but the vast majority are older ones like Nativity, Apocalypse Now and The Elephant Man.

The iPlayer library features a large range of British films, both newer ones and historical ones, with Mogul Mowgli and Small Axe sitting side-by-side in the libary with the likes of A Fish Called Wanda and Doctor Zhivago.

John Boyega Black Lives Matter

Small Axe is available to stream on iPlayer. (Image credit: Getty)

You can see iPlayer's film library here (opens in new tab). Unlike on some streaming services, iPlayer will tell you how long a film will remain accessible to stream, so you know if you need to see it urgently or can wait a while.

iPlayer sports

You can use iPlayer to watch sports in a number of ways.

Using the live TV method we detailed above, you can watch games that are aired on any of the BBC's channels, like BBC One or Radio One.

iPlayer also has a sports category, which you can find here (opens in new tab), with highlights and documentaries to check out.

Just be warned: if you press 'Sport' at the top of the iPlayer menu, you won't actually go to the sports section of iPlayer, but will be taken to the BBC's own sports page. This is mainly news articles, though there are links to watching live TV for matches currently on.

Tom Bedford
Streaming and Ecommerce Writer

Tom is the streaming and ecommerce writer at What to Watch, covering streaming services in the US and UK. His goal is to help you navigate the busy and confusing online video market, to help you find the TV, movies and sports that you're looking for without having to spend too much money.