You’re in Paris and you want to watch television? Fine by me. But there are few things you may want to know to make the most of your viewing experience.
Over the Air Broadcast
France has its own technology for TV broadcasting so your American TV will not pick up programs over the air. It will work just fine with your video player, assuming you plug it into a transformer (to convert the electricity) and an adaptor (so you can plug it into the wall). (Go take a look at our post on French electricity if this leaves you baffled.) Many expats buy a French TV from those who are departing, often at very reasonable prices.
Assuming your TV has an antenna, you will be able to access a handful of channels for free: TF1, France 2, France 3, France 5, and M6. If you purchase a triple play cable package (which bundles TV with your home phone and Internet service), you get access to dozens more channels as part of the basic package and even more if you subscribe additionally to premium channels like Canal+, Disney, and Eurosport.
Watching French television (particularly the news) is not a bad way to work on your language skills. But if you just can’t bear watching CSI (which is called Les Experts here in France) dubbed into French, you can sometimes change the audio to version originale (VO) with your remote. The details vary among cable providers. My only advice is to look at the manual and keep clicking. By some magic, my kids turned on the closed captioning for the hearing impaired on our TV so I can now watch French programming with subtitles in French. Really, every little bit helps.
DVDs are coded according to the region where they are made: zone 1 for the U.S. and Canada, and zone 2 for Europe. If you want to be able to play both, purchase a multi-zone DVD player.
Keeping Up with American Shows
You won’t be able to keep up with your favorite American shows by simply going to the network Web sites. The sites can detect that your computer is in France, and, for licensing reasons, they block access to their content. (The exception is some newcasts available by podcast either from the network or iTunes.) Ditto for Hulu.com. Apparently there is a way to mask your French IP address but the networks are catching onto this and blocking masked addresses too. If you can’t live without your shows or your ability to follow your home town teams, here are a couple of options:
Slingbox: Connect a Slingbox to a television in one country and watch it anywhere in the world via the Internet. To make this work, you either need to have a vacation place back home with TV, cable, and a high speed Internet connection or a friend or relative willing to let you hook up to theirs. Given differences in time zones, you really need a DVR to make Slingbox work well. Otherwise, you’ll have to watch your U.S. prime time shows in the middle of the night Paris time. The capital investment is relatively minor (less than $200 for unlimited viewing) and there are no monthly fees. The catch here is that you need a willing partner, preferably someone who doesn’t mind you having control of their TV set. If you can’t miss a Cubs game, this is the option for you.
SkyTV: Sky is a British company that offers many channels of movies and TV shows via satellite dish. If you’re homesick for British fare, this is the option for you although there’s quite a bit of American content too (such as American Idol, ESPN America, and the Food Network). You have to have a British address to qualify for premium service but apparently there are people willing to rent their addresses to folks like you. It’s not clear to me whether this is completely legit. You pay for the box and dish plus a monthly subscription fee. A friend had her Sky dish installed by DD Electronics. She noted that they speak English and were very helpful. Another Sky vendor is Insat. You’ll have to check these Web sites for additional information and complete list of programing.
Apple TV: Apple TV provides a small wireless device that will connect your computer to your television, allowing you to download anything you might buy or rent from the U.S. iTunes store (both movies and television shows) at high speed and watch at your leisure. To use the U.S. store, you need to have an American credit card with an American mailing address. (There is also a French version of Apple TV; check the content offerings before you commit, however, to see if this works with your taste in shows.) The Apple router costs around $230 (or about 270 euros from the French Apple Store) and the content is pay as you go.
Streaming sites: There are a large number of Web sites that stream movies and TV shows direct to your computer, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee. To be completely honest, I am too chicken to do this. You never know what kind of viruses you might be attracting or what else these sites might be downloading to your computer. The calculus of risk, of course, is quite personal so think carefully about how much you really want to watch the latest episode of Mad Men versus having a functioning home computer.
You Tube: An odd assortment of movies and TV shows are available for free on YouTube. You may have to be creative with your search terms and you may end up seeing a favorite film with subtitles in Chinese. In addition, since YouTube clips can only be 10 minutes long, you end up watching in segments: 12 or so for movie, 4 to 8 for a TV show. It’s total hit and miss but you might get lucky. For example, I recently watched that wonderful Valentine to Paris, Amelie, on YouTube.
Weekly television listings from Premiere
Television in France (offering the British perspective)
BBC Guide to Watching French Television (aimed at language learners)