A guide on getting Spanish TV, plus options on how to get foreign channels and radio stations on your TV or your computer via the Internet.
What better way is there to get to know Spain than by watching Spanish television? Local TV channels will help open up a window to Spanish culture, the Spanish language, and general way of life. But if you fancy watching TV shows from back home, you’ll be pleased to know that you can easily access these via your TV or the Internet in Spain.
Spain also has a wide range of regional, national, and international radio stations that are easy to access. This helpful guide provides all the information you need about TV and radio in Spain, including the following:
- Watching TV in Spain
- National and regional TV channels
- English-language TV channels
- Satellite TV
- Online streaming services
- Radio stations in Spain
- English-language radio stations
- Online radio stations
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Watching TV in Spain
Fortunately, you do not need a license to watch Spanish TV. Accessing local and international channels is relatively easy to arrange. Barcelona and Madrid were the first two Spanish cities to experience television in 1948. It was 8 years later in 1956 that TVE, the first proper channel, initiated regular programming throughout the country. In 1990, the first private channels began to appear and in the 2000s, analog television started migrating to digital television. Eventually, analog TV services were officially discontinued in 2010, and since then, all national and regional terrestrial channels are digital.
Prior to the switch from analog to digital, a UK television set would not work in Spain. The UK used PAL-1 analog encoding, whereas Spain used PAL-BG, therefore, the transmission was problematic. However, both countries now use DVB-T digital systems so there is unlikely to be a problem. But if you have an old analog TV set that you want to bring to Spain, you will need a separate digital terrestrial television (TDT) receiver box that converts the digital channels. You can buy these in Spanish TV shops or in places such as Carrefour or Alcampo for around €30-40.
Digital TV in Spain
If you want to widen your viewing options, there are several subscription-based platforms that you can choose from that offer various packages. The cost of these packages varies according to the channels included and the provider. For instance, some providers may provide free satellite TV if you sign up for their Internet package. The main satellite TV providers and installers in Spain include:
To get additional English channels, such as the BBC, Channel 4, or Sky TV, however, you will need a Sky receiver and a card.
Cable TV in Spain
To access an even wider range of programs, you can subscribe to a monthly cable service using one of the following providers:
Many of the properties in Spain are already wired for cable service, but if you home is not, you can always set-up a connection when you subscribe for a new service. Prices can vary, but the average is around €300 a year.
National and regional TV channels
There are 34 national Spanish TV channels including HD channels. Five of the channels are public owned by RTVE (La 1, La 2, Clan, 24 Horas, and Teledeporte) and the rest are private. There are also numerous regional TV channels in each of the autonomous communities in Spain. Interestingly, while TV consumption initially increased following the 2008 financial crisis, it has been declining in recent years, as Spanish people are turning their attention to other types of media such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets.
The most popular TV channels in Spain
According to 2019 figures, national TV channels dominate the rankings in Spain. Telecinco ranked as the most-watched TV station in Spain; holding over 14% of the total audience share that year. The channel is most known for airing reality TV, soap operas, general entertainment, and what is known as ‘garbage TV’ (tele basura).
The second most popular channel is Antena 3 with 11.7% of the total audience share in 2019. This private channel, which launched in 1990, broadcasts programs that focus on news, magazines, cinema, drama, and sitcoms. The third most viewed Spanish TV channel, with a 9.4% share, is La 1, which features debate programs, documentaries, sports, and entertainment shows.
Interestingly, regional TV only seems to be popular in Catalonia, where it recorded an audience share of more than 18% in 2019. In other regions such as Castile and Leon, however, the audience share was only 0.3%.
English-language TV channels
Fortunately for expats, there is a greater opportunity to watch English-language television in Spain since the switch to digital television. Many Spanish channels now screen imported UK and US television series as well as movies from around the world; these are often dubbed into Spanish.
Thanks to digital television, however, you now have the option to watch movies and series in their original language at the push of a button. You can usually change the language by using the language or audio button on the remote control for the digital decoder or the television itself if it has a built-in digital tuner. You also have the option to select Spanish subtitles if you want to brush up on your Spanish language skills.
Not only is this option being discovered by more and more Spaniards who appreciate having an extra tool to help improve their English, but it also enables English-speaking expats to discover a whole range of viewing possibilities without having to resort to satellite or cable TV. That said, these formats obviously do offer expats far more options.
The main satellite for English speaking TV is Astra 2. Therefore, in order to gain access to all foreign channels in Spain, expats usually need to install a satellite dish on Astra 2. It is wise to contact a reputable satellite company that can install the correct equipment for you.
Before you arrange a satellite installation, it is important to note that some landlords may require approval before dish installation. And if you are getting a satellite dish installed and it is over 1.9 meters in diameter, you may require planning permission from the local Town Hall (Ayuntamiento). However, this varies between towns and should be checked before proceeding with any installation.
Once the satellite dish has been installed, you won’t have to pay any additional charges as TDT is free. You will also be able to enjoy services such as Freesat, which allows you to watch over 140 free UK TV channels in Spain. This service also offers subscription-free access to catch up and on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and Demand 5.
Online streaming services
Luckily for expats, there are plenty of ways to get your fix of foreign TV shows and movies online when you live in Spain.
Some of the most popular online streaming services are:
- Disney+: the latest addition to the international streaming market has a whole host of movies and TV shows from Disney’s back-catalog, including The Simpsons and Star Wars.
- Netflix: this global heavy-hitter boasts an impressive library of movies and TV shows which are accessible for a monthly membership fee
- Amazon Prime Video: you can watch a wide range of movies (and some with subtitles in other languages) for a membership fee.
- TVCatchup: once you register, you can enjoy watching a wide variety of live channels online.
- DIRECTV: you can enjoy hundreds of live TV channels and on-demand titles, including kid’s TV channels, news, sport, and more.
Radio stations in Spain
National radio in Spain is divided between public and commercial radio. There are currently six national public radio services, which are broadcast by Radio Nacional de España (RNE), Spain’s national public radio service. These include the following:
- Radio Nacional: general service with mostly speech-based programs
- Clásica: plays classical music and concerts
- Radio 3: airs pop and rock music mainly for a youth audience
- Ràdio 4: a regional service which broadcasts in the Catalan language
- Radio 5 (Todo Noticias): a 24-hour news channel
- Radio Exterior de España: an international, external broadcaster
There are also numerous commercial networks which broadcast across Spain, of which the following are particularly popular:
- Cadena COPE: featuring mostly news, talk, and sports with a religious appeal.
- esRadio: a private, national radio station that features music and news
- Cadena 100: adult-contemporary radio station, comparable to BBC Radio 2.
- Rock FM: plays classic rock
- MegaStar FM: plays a mix of pop/dance music, comparable to Radio Disney.
There are also a dozen foreign-language radio stations available in a number of languages, including German, Dutch, Russian, Catalan, and Scandinavian.
English-language radio stations
Fortunately, there is now a large selection of English-language radio stations broadcasting in areas of Spain where the majority of expats live. Some of these have been broadcasting for almost 50 years and have a loyal following among expats looking to catch up on the latest news and views within their local communities; as well as enjoy a range of music.
There are currently 25 English-language radio stations that are broadcast throughout Spain, of which the following are particularly popular:
Online radio stations
When it comes to listening to your favorite radio show, the Internet is often the easiest way of finding it. A quick Google search will deliver some useful results including Univision, United States Radio, and Streema, which gives you access to more than 13,000 radio stations around the world. Additionally, if you subscribe to satellite TV you will also probably have access to radio channels.