Watching Israeli TV online

by Gabe

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 0.55.19

Probably the most useful way to improve your Hebrew without putting in a lot of effort is to watch movies and TV in Hebrew. I remember when I came on my second trip to Israel when I was 17, and watching children’s TV was exciting and educational. (Still would be if I watched it!)

My Hebrew is pretty good but I still find the news hard to follow word for word, because there aren’t subtitles for live content. Programs with subtitles are far easier to follow. Dramas, on the other hand, turn out to be frequently and surprisingly easy to follow. Relatively, anyway. חטופים was the first series I watched when I first got to Israel (all links here are to full episodes, FYI.) I was speaking back then at roughly a gimmel level, and I was rewinding quite frequently to read the Hebrew subtitles. So I’d say that is just about the minimum level of any language you’d need to watch TV with real understanding.

Live TV

But anybody at any level can enjoy watching streaming TV casually, and that’s one of my favorite ways to passively absorb Hebrew. I don’t have cable TV in Israel, but there are a few streaming channels, and I’ve started watching more TV recently, so I thought I’d write a post about it. Here are direct links to the live Israeli TV online streams that I know about:

  • Channel 1: A nice, high quality stream. Sort of like Israel’s PBS, but some really top programs air here.
  • Channel 2 unofficial stream from Streema. No need to work out whether it’s Keshet or Reshet broadcasting, just click here.
  • Channel 2 Keshet/Mako: This is the company that broadcasts on Channel 2 on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. No region-blocking.
  • Channel 2 Reshet: This is the company that broadcasts on Israel’s Channel 2 for the rest of the week. Region-blocking in place – you’ll need a VPN or something similar to get around it. See below.
  • Channel 10: Streams 7 days a week and it’s a high quality widescreen stream. Highly recommended. No region-blocking.
  • Channel 24: Music television.
  • Channel 99: The Knesset channel. Israel’s C-SPAN.

Each of these sites also includes huge amounts of on-demand content. I suggested Hatufim above (and provided the link to the Mako website) but if you navigate around a bit, you’ll find a bunch of content. The Channel 1 site, for instance, includes on-demand TV programs as well as on-demand radio programs, divided into categories, from across IBA’s extensive range of radio stations.

On-demand

So those are the live streams. Then you have other content providers that make available vast amounts of high-quality on-demand content. There are various services that seem to act as clearinghouses for this content; Isramedia seems to be one of them, and it’s a useful starting point. Some of the noteworthy ones are:

  • Hot: Huge amounts of stuff here. Just like the cable company that creates this stuff and provides awful service to its hordes of dissatisfied customers, the clunky streaming interface sucks balls. But that’s a small price to pay for this mountain of material. Haven’t dug around here too much, but it’s entirely possible they only provide a few episodes of each series. Whatever.
  • Walla: Again, gobs of stuff here.
  • Yes: This is the other big cable company that competes with Hot, and it’s partnered with Walla, but for some reason vod.walla.co.il (previous link) and yes.walla.co.il (this link) are different. Again, I haven’t dug a lot here, but plenty of content.
  • YouTube: Lots of the stuff that’s on these other sites is fed into their YouTube channels. Much of it is region-blocked. More on bypassing that, if you’re outside Israel, below.
  • Walla movies: I’m including this separately because, while there are probably other sites with free movies, I recently found this one and it’s great. English and other foreign movies here with subtitles. Unfortunately, the Israeli stuff doesn’t have subbies, which is a big problem, because I need them. I think with subtitles I understand about 80-90% of the material usually; without, I’m barely hitting 50% (which is related to my much reduced ability to converse in Hebrew.)

A few recommendations:

Here are some of my TV show recommendations:

  • היהודים באים – sketch comedy show based on Jewish history. There was some controversy around showing it – the right-wing didn’t like it. Mostly excellent.
  • חטופים – as mentioned above. Homeland was based on this show. The Israel version is probably better.
  • Dating in the Dark – I would never watch this in any other country. Here, it has heart.
  • עובדה – While the VOD includes only older material (right now it’s December and the most recent episode online is from August), this is a great current affairs program. Here’s some episodes with English subtitles.
  • Kathmandu – I watched an episode or two when this program first aired in 2012. It’s about an ultra-Orthodox couple that moves to Kathmandu to set up a Jewish center. Pretty good.
  • מצב האומה – A good, topical, funny panel show, as found in every country. This is Israel’s.
  • Every episode of Friends and Joey with Hebrew subtitles.

I’ll add more to this list later, but you’re spoiled for choice if you just browse around. Ask an Israeli friend for recommendations (my friends swear by מחוברים.) Of course, if you know which show you’re after, just google its name and פרקים מלאים or צפייה ישירה. Google Autocomplete is your friend.

Bypassing Region Restrictions

Now, if you’re outside Israel and find yourself region-blocked for some of this content, the most effective solution is going to be a VPN. I did some research, and the VPN I found with an Israeli server is an Israeli company called SaferVPN. It’s $8 a month and their foreign servers are fast enough to watch streaming content – I’d be surprised if their Israeli servers weren’t just as fast. And at $6 a month if you subscribe for a year, totally worth it if it gets you the content you want. There may be other Israeli VPNs, but I’ve used this one and I’m comfortable recommending it. Super easy to install, too – on my Mac, I just installed their app, clicked on the country I wanted to stream from, and זבנג – I’m streaming from Amazon or Netflix or BBC or whatever. Easier, and far less buffering, than other VPNs I’ve tried (I find the Hola extension completely useless, but you can try adding it to Chrome and see if that works for you.)