Study Spanish with RTVE Television Programs: Stream or Download Free Videos with Spanish Subtitles

RTVE is Spain’s state-owned television station. It is the largest and most popular station in the country and it broadcasts a variety of programs from news to dramas. The best thing about the station is that it offers much of its content for free consumption on the official website. And, a lot of this content is not geographically limited, though apparently newer content is more likely to be geographically restricted.

For study purposes, I recommend choosing programs that have Spanish subtitles (though live programs may not be available until a day or two after broadcast which isn’t ideal for news). These are closed captions meant for the hearing impaired but are a great way for intermediate to advanced students to really focus on listening while being able to verify any words you weren’t sure you heard correctly. These closed captions can be activated in the bottom right corner of the video screen.

I haven’t experimented too much yet so I cannot say what programs are most worth watching, but I have been enjoying Olmos y Robles and Telediaro is a good news option. Andrew at How to Learn Spanish likes the daily morning show Los Desayunos and the historical fictions Isabel and Carlos, Rey Emperador. He also points out that many good documentaries (documentales) are worth checking out, though again it seems the more recent ones (maybe the past six months?) are not available outside of Spain.

You can stream all the RTVE programs from the official website, but even if you have a pretty good Internet connection you may have some buffering issues as the underlying programs file sizes can be pretty big. This becomes even more of an issue if you need to rewind a few seconds because something was difficult to hear or understand. Or perhaps you plan to watch something multiple times, want to watch in multiple sittings or just want to watch on your preferred media player? In that case, you can download the files and the subtitles to your computer. Here’s how.

Step 1: Download the Video (No Subtitles)

Like many streaming sites, downloading videos from RTVE is not so straightforward as there is no download option on the site and there is no direct download file to easily find and access. So, to download a copy of the video you have two basic options: use a browser addon/extension or use a third party site.

Using an addon or extension is the easiest method but be aware that most popular video download browser addons do not work with the RTVE videos. Fortunately, I have found a few that do.

Firefox users can use the popular Video Download Helper addon, though note that the current version only supports Firefox Quantum (FF56+). If you haven’t made the switch yet (like me), you can just install an older version. If you do use the latest Firefox, you will be warned that a helper program is needed and you will need to download and install that. Video Download Helper is the addon I have long used so I was happy to see it works. I did try several other popular addons but I couldn’t find another that worked. If you know of others, please leave a comment.

Video Download Helper

Video Download Helper Options

I am mostly a Firefox guy but I occasionally use Chrome as well. My first thought was to see if there is a Video Download Helper extension for Chrome and there is, but unfortunately it doesn’t work for RTVE videos (it recognizes there is a video but displays a warning and you cannot download the file). So, I tried some of the more popular downloading extensions and found three that seem to do the job: Flash Video Downloader, FBDown Video Downloader and Download Plus. The first two look and function much the same but all three seem to work quite well.

FBDown Video Downloader

Flash Video Downloader

Note: Your addon will probably not recognize a video as existing until you start to play it. Also, you might consider using an ad blocker so you don’t end up downloading the introductory ad instead of the main episode video. I recommend uBlock Origin (Firefox, Chrome).

Using an addon or extension is the best option for downloading RTVE videos but another option is to use an online service instead. There are a lot of sites that claim to serve this purpose, but most are focused on downloading YouTube, Vimeo and other popular sites’ videos. Those don’t seem to work with RTVE. There used to be three good sites that could convert and download RTVE videos but two (Video Grabby and TubeOffline) no longer function (the sites work but they no longer can handle RTVE videos). That leaves

The site is in Spanish and has a note that basically says RTVE has blocked access from the piraminetlab site. The service still works but after you enter the URL and press Calcular you will be shown a result box with the name of the video, a small thumbnail image and a link (Enlace del video). But note, you CANNOT simply right click this link and save the file. That is because RTVE will recognize the referring source as being piraminetlab and block it.

Instead, you want to open the provided link in a new tab or window. But again, just as you cannot right click and save, neither can you right click and choose to open in a new tab. Instead, right click on the Enlace del video link, copy the link location and paste that into a new tab or window. calcular

Most likely your browser is configured to automatically start playing MP4 files. If so, and that doesn’t bother you, just let it load, right click on the video and choose to the Save Video As option. save file

If you don’t want MP4 files to play automatically but would prefer to have a download dialog box appear instead, you can do that within Firefox via the following steps:

  1. Enter about:config in the address bar
  2. Hit Enter
  3. Click I’ll be careful, promise!
  4. In the Search field, enter media.mp4.enabled
  5. Double-click anywhere on the resulting row to change the Value from True to False
  6. Close the browser tab

configure Firefox to not play MP4 files automatically

Now when you paste in any MP4 link (as the RTVE video links are), you should get a dialogue box instead of having the video load.

force Firefox to download MP4 links - dialogue box

To my knowledge, there is no equivalent setting in Chrome however there is a useful extension called Force Download that works well.

Step 2: Get the Subtitles

When you download the video file, it will not contain the subtitles. If you want to use them, you will need to download them separately. You might think there is some useful addon or software to do the job, but after a lot of online searching I cannot find any (if you know of any, please share in the comments).

I have found two processes that get the job done. One is detailed on a VideoHelp forum post and uses your browser’s development tools. In summary:

  1. Load the video page but don’t start playing the video yet.
  2. Right click somewhere on the page (not on the video itself) and choose Inspect for Chrome or Inspect Element (Q) for Firefox.
  3. You will see the developer tools feature either at the bottom of the screen or the right sidebar. There are a lot of things going on with that but look for the tab or option that is labeled Network and click it.
  4. Now play the video and make sure the subtitle is selected.
  5. In the Network section you selected, type .vtt into the filter field. You should see one row appear.
  6. Right click on the .vtt file shown and choose the option to open in a new tab.
  7. Save the .vtt file using the same filename as the video file you already downloaded and change the .vtt extension to .srt.

Inspect Netork in Chrome

Save .vtt file

The forum post recommends one more step to remove some extraneous color tags. I am not sure this step is really necessary since skipping it doesn’t seem to cause me any problems with my preferred VLC media player but perhaps it is necessary for other players. If you find it necessary, here is what to do.

Open the .srt file in Notepad or your preferred text editor (I love Notepad++) and remove the first line few lines (e.g., WEBVTT) and all the color tags (e.g., <c.vtt_green>) and their closing tags (</c>). Several colors are typically used so you will need to replace each (green, yellow, cyan, and magenta are the ones I recall seeing). If you use Notepad++, you can choose the regular expressions option in the Replace dialogue box. I use the following to find all relevant color tags:

Notepad++ - regular expression replace

If you have any trouble working with the Inspect tool, here is an alternative method:

  1. Load the video page.
  2. Right click somewhere on the page (not on the video itself) and choose View Page Source.
  3. Search for subtitulos.json. You should see something like:
  4. Append that to, so you would have something like:
  5. Paste that URL into a new tab.
  6. Under the src field you will see a .vtt filename. Something like:
  7. Paste that URL into a new tab. It should give you a download dialogue box.
  8. Save the file using the same filename as the video file you already downloaded and change the .vtt extension to .srt.
  9. Replace the color references if necessary (see above).

View page source - search for subtitulos.json

Find .vtt file in subtitulos.json file

That’s it. Obviously, streaming will be much less hassle, but if you want to download the videos and subtitles, hopefully this method will work for you.

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