How to download DRM-free video from BBC iPlayer

Updated 29th April 2010: The below will no longer work for iPlayer downloads.  With scripting – perhaps iPlayer behaviour can still be mimicked to get the goodies. Read to the bottom of the comments for links to alternative methods. I cannot verify what will work now.

Updated 9th March: Have corrected the bookmarklet which seemed to be getting cut short when you dragged it to your toolbar. Also tested with the Mac OS X and works for me using VLC as the player.

Yes it’s true. The new version of iPlayer for the iPhone delivers mpeg4’s without the “You have 4 more hours to watch this show”, self-destructing DRM of the Windows Media version. They are 480×272 which is decent, and a 45 minute show comes in around 160MB.

You have to jump through a few hoops to download these, but once it’s set up it’s easy to download whenever you want, so bear with me.

  1. First you’ll want to make your browser appear as if it’s an iPhone. I’m working with Firefox, so sorry if this isn’t your browser. Download one of the many handy Firefox plugins, The User Agent Switcher.
  2. After installation and browser restart, add a new User Agent and supply the following information (Tools > User Agent Switcher > Options > Options)
    • Description: iPhone
    • User Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en)
    • App Name: AppleWebKit/420+ (KHTML, like Gecko)
    • App Version: Version/3.0
    • Platform: Mobile/1A542a Safari/419.3

    The add user agent dialog box - image

  3. Now switch to having your browser masquerading as the iphone (Tools > User Agent Switcher -> iphone)
  4. Fire up an iPlayer page of choice.
  5. Find out the URL that links to the video by dragging this handy bookmarklet to your Bookmarks Toolbar Folder.
  6. Click the bookmarklet and the the URL you want should appear under the title of the video on the iPlayer page.
    Where to look for the URL - image
  7. Paste this into a new Firefox tab, the iPlayer site will respond and it will begin to download in your browser. This is a pain, so hit the stop button (“X” in a circle), and instead save the page (File > Save page as..)
  8. Bingo, your Downloads window should now pop open to show you the progress of the download, and the mpeg4 is yours forever to keep! You will want to download and play them in VLC which is by far the most accommodating of all the players, and is free.

Don’t forget to reset your user agent back to default, otherwise you may find you’re viewing iPhone mobile versions of web pages.

Also, not all the iPlayer content is yet available yet as the service was only launched Friday 7th March. I’m not sure if the BBC was meaning to release DRM free files, so this information may not be useful forever.

Thanks to PainInTheTech for the User Agent info, and Irregular Shed for his discovery of this iPlayer “feature”.

Here’s The Sky at Night playing in VLC on a Mac

Sky at Night playing on a Mac

34 thoughts on “How to download DRM-free video from BBC iPlayer”

  1. I get this error from the bookmarklet:

    syntax error
    javascript:(function(){url = document.getElementById(‘mip-flash-player’).getElementsByTagName(
    Line 1

  2. I use this script to take me straight to the URL:

    javascript:(function(){url = document.getElementById(‘mip-flash-player’).getElementsByTagName(%22object%22)[0].childNodes[0].value; window.location = url;})()

  3. Hi there, I have edited the bookmarklet which was causing problems. It’s called iPlayerURL2 now. I don’t have Vista only XP+Firefox so I can’t test that The Mac downloaded files played fine for me. I think everyone has to use VLC to play the files ‘though as they are a slightly odd format of mp4.

  4. Seems to be downloading ok, thanks for this, I missed half of a season on bbc, and didnt think i would have time in the next week to watch them online.

  5. Thanks for that little bit of Javascipt, saves installing another FFX extension. Funny that the downloaded MP4 won’t play in Quicktime player on XP tho… Now just gotta work out how to get the files playing on my Nokia N800.

  6. Don (and everyone) – if you change the extension from .mp4 to .mov Quicktime will play it. The filename the BBC provide doesn’t match the container type – this doesn’t cause problems with VLC, which actually inspects the file to choose how to play it, but lesser players (like Quicktime) rely solely on the file extension and, when finding the data within doesn’t match its expectations, “throws a wobbly” (as my mother would say).

  7. Bookmarklets are a bit lame though. If you’re using Firefox already, then chances are you have GreaseMonkey installed. Just use a script to dig out the link?

    eric_p: To get round the UK only thing, you will probably need to connect through a proxy server in the UK. There’s a few different ways to do that.

  8. Pssst! The door was closed but not locked, and they put another unlocked door just behind it. It’s now trickier – can’t be done easily with a script in a web page – but if you’ve got Ruby or a PHP command line interpreter installed (um, like most Linux boxes) it’s a doddle thanks to the guys who’ve broken it here:

    (About 50 comments in!)

  9. Hi … I tried the original idea, and then when it didn;t work, discovered that the BBC had shut the door. I managed to follow the instructions for that … but to be honest, I haven’t got a clue what you guys are talking about. Is this going to be too much for a novice ? I’m desparate to download the James Taylor concert from last night (Our BBC 4 coverage is poor)


  10. OK, this is making my brain hurt right now, and I’m a moderately technical guy.

    Can anyone, please, put up a first-time, Windows XP user’s guide from coming into this situation devoid of the iPlayer and whatever the hell Ruby actually is (technical, but not a programmer beyond BASIC) or any other tools, and coming out the other end with a working mp4 file – as of current state-of-play December 1st 2008?

    Because all I can see so far, anywhere, is out of date info, half complete code, and a load of in-crowd programmer gibberish that assumes you’re using a Mac, running OSX (preferably a particular flavour of it), and have Ruby installed and are fairly familiar with using it or the BSD commandline. Totally unacceptable.

    I know it will sound lazy and ungrateful of me, but given that it looks to be a fairly simple bit of code (5kb or so), can’t a Win32 executable be compiled up by someone who has the appropriate software?

    Jeez, I only ended up here because trying to roll back media player then go through the FairUse4WM / FreePlay WMV extraction process looked like a pain in the arse. The promise of “tell your browser to make like an iPhone” (which wasn’t too hard) “then download the MP4 file” (which was ok til Quicktime choked on it and auntie beeb blocked the browser from saving it direct) seemed nice … until we linked thru to that Ruby script page!

  11. … yeah I guess that does make me look like a whiney bitch….

    but all the same… fer cryin' out loud … just a simple expl of what's required for J. average windowsuser, even if no EXE.

    Trying to DL a panorama episode that's needed for a lesson being given at the college I work at. Previously we'd have just put the damn thing on a videocassette but the powers that be have this big "it'll make everything better!!!!!1" drive on towards DVDs, or preferably online resources, with no clear idea of what the actual benefits and added difficulties actually are.

    Trying to sort this all out on the last day that the thing is available is making my mind rot. There's a torrent of it available but that, obviously, is blocked by the firewall. I tried recording it off virgin replay into my laptop last night (cheap ass vidcap card; no 'real' DVD recorder) and that's made a total mess of it. All iPlayer hacking things so far have either failed or look like they'll take me way beyond 5pm (when I supposedly finish at 4.30). >_… currently halfheartedly polling everyone I know to see if they have a DVD set-top recorder – a strangely rare beast – that I can mate to my Virgin box, assuming it doesn't spit out it's dummy because of Macrovision or something.

    (if all else fails, I can tape it as my VCR seems immune to copy protection, and tell them in true hypocrite fashion to stop being babies, find a VCR to play it on and shut up 😉


    Scroll down to “Pre-built Windows GUI”

    It’s the Ruby program rolled up into a single executable file for numpties. It’s 7.89Mb (because it includes all the necessities to make it run – like Ruby) but feel free to write your own 5kb one if you like; all the info you’ll need is at If you’re taking requests, a Firefox plugin that does it all would be nice, thanks.

  13. speaking of "jinx" 😀

    thanks for the link for numpties like myself anyway Shed … sarky comments taken in stride as I know it was a cheek – but not all of us are codewarriors. Some have to be on the shopfloor dealing with the end users making the most unknowing of unreasonable demands instead.

    (I don't wish to give the impression I'm not highly appreciative of the programming efforts needed to weedle their way around the multifarious protections of el beeb & Moneysoft … communication without sounding like an arse isn't my strong suit. Particularly after a day of teaching people that "where the instructions say press the big green button to turn it on… you press this big green button on the front of the machine … and it turns on" 😉 but a 2000+ line page full of code and "on OSX, just type this" does start to scramble the eyes after a while!)

    'fraid I can't promise a firefox plugin, as it would be like asking my mother to build a car, but if I spot one I'll certainly let you know. And whether the all-in-one tool works as expected… it'll save a hell of a lot of hassle.

  14. I know what it’s like, don’t worry =) Just encouraging a “please” and “thank you” for the chaps and chapesses that have been picking this apart for the good of the community. Having seen people berate the downloader for not being able to download Heroes I tend to not suffer fools gladly in this department…

    Basically, if you can watch it on an iPhone/iPod Touch, the downloader will download it (until the Beeb break it again, in which case check back to – there’s normally a fix within a day).

  15. … nope, no good so far. Might be because I’m on a corporate-ish net at the moment however. Just get an error:
    A socket operation was attempted to an unreachable host. – connect(2) (Errno::EHOSTUNREACH)
    C:/DOCUME~1/*username*/eee/eee.ipdl-1.10.exe.2/lib/net/http.rb:564:in `initialize’

    (where *username* had my login name)

    Presumably this means “the firewall snaffled it”, which I’m unlikely to be able to get around as there’s no connection settings in the thing (however it should use the browser settings, shouldn’t it?). I’ll give it a go from home later on instead, it’ll still be in plenty of time. Cheers for the pointer anyway. Ciao…

  16. Can someone please help me? everything works fine up until i load up the iplayer page, but when i load up the video i want, a box just appears with the quicktime logo faded and a white question mark in the middle. Can someone please tell me what i do to rectify this? Thank you.

  17. Hi,

    Check out iDownload –

    Tool to download DRM-Free content from BBC iPlayer. This content can be played on any device that supports Apple QuickTime Movies (.mov files) and Advanced Audio Content (.aac) including iPhone, iPod Touch and any PC with the latest QuickTime Player installed. Supports TV and Radio programmes, although not all programmes are available. Search BBC iPlayer programmes based on Channels, Genre and Title search.

  18. There are various ways of downloading iPlayer programs but they are all iPhone with lower resolution than the original, unless of course you know different?

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