No matter how “international” Shanghai gets, the local TV is as Chinese as it gets—non-stop Song Dynasty soap operas, WWII dramas, and the worst sports commentary in the entire world.
Here are several ways to watch the media at home. They’re all a little ‘grey’, so we can’t give out specific instructions. But your expert ex-pat or local friends will know how to access these options with their own personal recommendations. If you have no friends, Google or Bing are decent substitutes.
The good thing about having a VPN is that you can change the country setting and then access both US and UK TV. So you can go for Hulu in the US and the BBC and ITV players in the UK. BBC also broadcasts their channels live. The only problem is China’s painfully slow internet. But it is free, once you have your VPN.
These are free, so you have nothing to lose. Youku, Baidu, PPTV, Tencent; all have huge back-catalogs of TV shows and movies. The Tencent app also has live English Premier League football games and other live sports.
The only downside is that this year they stopped updating the foreign media, due to increasing scrutiny over copyright violations. Regardless, you can still get hundreds of movies on your iPad for free.
Bit Torrent has mixed reviews—you’ll find those that love it, those that hate it, and those who would say, “It’s complicated.” By going somewhere such as ‘bitlord’, you can download almost anything…but it can be very, very slow, and unreliable.
So if you find that TV show or movie you desperately want, you need to install less-than-trustworthy software, and then hope that China’s slovenly internet even allows the download to take place. If you have a special connection e.g. at the office, it can be easy. Otherwise, you’ll have to give it a go yourself.
Xiaomi and Plex
A Mi Box will cost around 300 to 500 RMB. It comes pre-loaded with plenty of films and TV shows. The navigation system is a bit fiddly at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself with quite a collection of movies, some not even released in China yet. For example, it had Matt Damon’s “The Martian,” a month ago.
If you learn more about the Mi Box, you can do things like adding more apps, such as Plex. Plex costs around 30 RMB a month to upgrade to the full services. you can then get media from your computer (however you downloaded it) uploaded to your Plex, and can watch that anywhere you have installed Plex (e.g. on your mobile devices). So you can also watch things easily and seamlessly in a rich media experience with Plex on your Mi Box.
Satellite TV opens up the TV channels for live sports, movies and good Western stations. It’s a great option for the TV lover, but the price is high, and you have to rely on the installer (or another company) for your ongoing registration and watching capability (breakdowns, etc.). So it’s best to only use a company that you know has a good record.
Your TV options are now as diverse as the world itself. Perhaps you can even become that guy that hosts watch parties of all the latest Western dramas. Or you can just watch them alone, in your quiet, empty home. At the very least, you’ll have more TV to talk about at the water cooler.