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How to legally watch the World Cup matches without ESPN or cable

TL;DR — If you live in the United States, sign up for Overplay to watch live coverage of the World Cup from other broadcasters, including the BBC and SBS. To find out what Overplay is, how to use it and if it’s legal (it is), keep reading…

If you live in the United States, the best place to watch the World Cup is on ESPN. The broadcaster, which paid $100 million for the U.S. rights to the event, is airing the 2014 World Cup in high definition across its network of Disney-owned channels, including some matches on ABC. In addition, ESPN is providing live streams of World Cup events on its WatchESPN platform for anyone with a cable or satellite subscription.

If you don’t have a cable or satellite subscription, you might think you’re out of luck — forced to watch only the handful of matches that ABC chooses to broadcast over-the-air.

Fortunately, there is another way to watch the World Cup matches online. It only costs a few dollars a month, and it’s completely legal.

ESPN isn’t the only broadcaster streaming the World Cup

Dozens of broadcasters from around the world have secured regional rights to the World Cup — that is, they have the right to broadcast and stream matches within a region or a country. Like ESPN, many of them are providing live video streams of all the World Cup matches. Unlike ESPN, many of them are providing them online for free, without needing a cable or satellite subscription.

These broadcasters use various techniques to limit who can watch a stream and from where. The most common way to restrict a video feed is to only allow people in a certain area access to the stream. This technique is called “geoblocking.” Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon use geoblocking techniques to limit access to their video streams inside the United States; foreign broadcasters like the BBC and SBS in Australia use the same technique in their country. Geoblocking, though, isn’t foolproof.

Using a VPN to “move” to another country

Anyone can watch a live or on-demand “geoblocked” video feed by using a “virtual private network,” or VPN, to virtually “move” to another country. VPNs work like this: For a few dollars a month, an internet user gets access to special software that allows a person’s computer to connect to a server located in another country. Without getting too technical, the connection unblocks content typically restricted to a specific country or region. For example, a connection made to a server in the United Kingdom unlocks content from the BBC, ITV and Sky that would otherwise be restricted to just that region. A connection made to a server in Germany, Sweden, Russia, Australia or any number of other places would do the same.

Overplay is one of the best VPNs on the market. For about $10 a month, users get access to over 30 servers in the world, including servers in the United States (for watching Hulu and Netflix), the United Kingdom (for watching BBC and ITV), Australia (ABC, Nine and Network 10), and Sweden (Zattoo).

Overplay can be used to connect to a server in the United Kingdom for people who want to watch the World Cup matches on the BBC platform. Overplay can also be used to connect to an Australian server to watch matches on SBS, or to connect to a Swedish server to watch the mates on any number of German and French channels offered by Zattoo.

Overplay’s software, available for Windows and Mac, could not be more simple: Log in, choose the country you want and hit “connect.” Then, point your browser to whatever you wanted to watch and enjoy. Those with some technical expertise can also use Overplay on their Apple iOS and Android devices.

The downsides of using a VPN

— People with slow broadband speeds may not see much benefit to using a VPN. Accessing a web site is a bit like going to the store: The farther the store is, the longer it takes to drive there. The same goes for the internet: The farther away a web server is, the longer it takes to access content on it. Most people with fast internet speeds won’t have a problem, but a handful may find slow load times and constant buffering issues if they’re connecting to a server halfway around the world.

— Using a VPN can sometimes be against a website’s terms of service. Netflix’s terms of service, which all customers agree to when they sign up for the service, says that the company can terminate an account if they feel a person is using a VPN to watch their videos. There aren’t too many stories out there from people who have had their Netflix account shut off because they used a VPN, but it’s still worth asking yourself if the risk is worth it.

— The legality of using a VPN to watch copyrighted or restricted material varies from country to country. Using a VPN inside the United States to watch the World Cup matches is completely legal, but in Australia it’s a grey area. Research internet and copyright laws in your country before you sign up for a VPN service.

Disclosure: This article contains special hyperlinks to affiliate programs that help generate revenue for The Desk. Such hyperlinks are not intended to constitute an endorsement, sponsorship or warranty of any good or service.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).