Alternatives to satellite TV in Shanghai

Chances are, if you had a western satellite TV provider then lately you may have noticed that just about all the channels have been blocked. Before forking out between 3000-5000RMB for an ‘authentic’ system – these won’t come with any guarantees by the way – maybe think about divvying up your budget with these alternatives.

TV Shows

Local Chinese Websites – cost=$0 and (and there are others) – These Youtube-like sites have full episodes of the latest western tv shows (and movies). The quality is about the same as the satellite TV providers. If you don’t want to watch tv in front of the computer learn to hook it up to your TV or use the browser on a Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii. Seek out your nerdy friends and pay them in attention if you’re not quite sure how to do this.

Pros: Fast streaming, costs nothing, legal (I think)
Cons:Quality not HD, have to connect to the Internet before use

Western Websites – cost=$0
Hulu (mostly US) BBC iPlayer(UK) and ABC iView(Australia) and others – These online players offer the latest TV shows for free over the Web. The catch is you may have to be on a US, UK, or Australian IP address to view the shows properly. If you just read that last sentence and thought: “What’s an IP address?”, then you may want to pay another visit to your resident nerd friend.

Pros: Free, usually offered in good quality, it’s legal (I think)
Cons: Sometimes slow streaming or downloading and may need a native country IP address to work.

Bittorrent – cost=$0
There is a lot written about bittorrent on the Web so no need to repeat it here. It’s also a legally gray area that I’m not sure about in China. Do some Googling and visit and I’m sure you’ll catch on quick.

Pros: Usually high quality video than streaming, can download and burn to dvd/use on multiple machines.
Cons: Probably illegal, can be slow to download programs if they aren’t popular – those old episodes of CHIPS may take a while…

Legal downloads – Cost: few dollars an episode
If you feel strongly about people getting paid to do what they do then there’s no need to be a pirate. You can actually purchase legal versions of TV shows at the iTunes music store and places online.

Pros: The feel good feeling that at least some of the people who created the content are getting paid, guaranteed content, usually high quality.
Cons: You have to pay for it, Digital Rights Management on some TV shows means you can only watch it a certain amount of times or copy it to a certain amount of devices before it doesn’t work anymore. (The industry is moving away from this crap way of thinking, though)

DVD Shops – Cost: 5-12RMB per disc
If you’re not blind you may notice quite a lot of DVD shops around town. Inside they offer whole seasons of TV shows, including shows I’d almost forgotten about – Airwolf, anyone? For TV past and present its probably the best way to watch television series in Shanghai if you’re not up to the savvy stuff of downloading or can’t be bothered with it.

Pros: Usually good quality, cheap, huge range of shows, convenience, much less nerdy than messing around with computers.
Cons: Its probably piracy (I actually don’t know for sure), occasional dodgy discs, have to wait for a whole TV season to finish before its in the DVD shop

Use your Satellite to tune into free channels
If you have the equipment the know-how you may be able to set up your satellite to tune to free channels which broadcast in the area. For example, the Australia Network broadcasts for free. Whether you are allowed to do this is I’m not sure (personally I haven’t been bothered to try).

Pros: Free
Cons: A hassle to set up, might have the local police tearing down your satellite dish.


The Pub – Cost: 20-80RMB a drink
Sport is a tricky one. You don’t really want to watch the replay so unless there are Websites with live streaming then the best place to go is your favourite pub which will show your team.

Pros: It’s sociable, most venues have big screens and there’s plenty of places with good pub grub
Cons: You have to wear pants (go outside) to watch your favourite game on TV, Booze costs and subsequent hangover after your team wins the championship.


To grab the latest movies you have a few choices. As to prevent repeating myself, you can use some of the methods above to watch movies, including; bittorrent, DVD shops, local Chinese Website streaming, international Website streaming. The methods are pretty much the same. However, you can also:

Go to the movies – cost: 20-100RMB a ticket
Just like at home there are plenty of places in Shanghai to watch the latest blockbusters and even independent films. You may have to do some research on the Internet before heading out to the movies on where to go and what to see as it changes weekly.

News and Current Affairs

If you’re not into watching news from CCTV9 or ICS on the local channels (I don’t think they are too bad) then it’s all internet. Depending on what you want to know its best to source the latest video from the TV network’s channel directly. If you’re more into reading the news then no doubt you have your favourite news sources already bookmarked and don’t need the help.

Go outside, get a hobby, do something different

Let’s face it, you’re in China and you want to watch ‘Lost’ or something similar? TV isn’t everything, so let go of the laowai TV and get involved in Shanghai and China – chances are you probably won’t be here forever so pick up the TV shows you missed at the DVD store on the way out.

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