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BBC Trust Says Licence Fee For Online TV Is Unclear

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Should people who don’t own a telly, but do watch TV over the net, still pay the TV Licence fee? The current legal situation is actually pretty straightforward. But the BBC Trust is getting worried and, in its review of the BBC’s licence collection efforts, says the government should change the law to establish the rules in light of technological change…

As former BBC future media director Ashley Highfield wrote last year: “At the moment, the legal position is that you don’t need a licence to watch TV purely on-demand, but you do if you are watching TV live (online).”

To pay… ?: On the one hand, the trust says the current law should be stuck to: “The BBC executive should seek to improve public awareness of the TV licensing law surrounding the use of technology, such as the internet, to access television services.”

… Or not to pay?: On the other hand, it warns that, with 40 percent of students already watching TV only with their laptops, “some segments” are already circumventing licence ownership by swapping their TVs for PCs; so: “Legislative change is likely to be required in order to reflect technology changes in the licence fee regulations and the trust has therefore not explored this further within this review.”

The trust said three percent of UK homes have no TV set – but viewing through “new technologies” is still only “supplementary” to TV viewing (ie. anyone who views online is also likely to have a telly): It is not yet clear whether households are likely to switch to internet streaming as the sole method of watching television, avoiding the use of a dedicated television set.”

As Highfield wrote last year: “If we saw, over time, that some people stopped receiving live broadcasts at all, stopped paying their licence fee, but continued to consume televison programmes, solely on-demand through the iPlayer (or other players), then we might have to consider talking to the Government about Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, so that they can then consider whether on-demand tv viewing might be brought within its aegis.” So the ball’s in the government’s court – but the TV License was not a component of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report.

2 Responses to “BBC Trust Says Licence Fee For Online TV Is Unclear”

  1. The amount that Spotify proposes to charge for its paid-for service amounts to two-thirds of the amount that the BBC gets in licence fee.

    So in other words, for the price of one and a third ways to listen to music, you get seven channels of video, countless audio, and the world's best news website.

    If that doesn't represent "public value", I don't know what does. And it illustrates that, far from being in inefficient behemoth of legend, the BBC actually manages to deliver an awful lot of content for not very much money per-user.

  2. Neil A

    This sucks! Surely you shouldnt be aloud to change the law just because people arent using your service, so they want to change it to get money from those people that no longer use the service it pays for. You cant prove these people use the iplayer, for all they know the people that are using the iplayer pay the tv licence. I pay the licence fee and grudge paying it aswell, I pay a subscription for pay-tv and havent watched BBC for absolute years, so if the licence fee is used to pay for the BBC why isnt it optional just like pay-tv like Sky or Virgin you have to pay for their service but it's optional surely if you are being charged for the service it should be optional? You know what the most annoying thing about having to pay the licence fee is that they use it to pay millions of pounds to celebs or pay for trips to America once a year to broadcast radio, hey if you want to use millions of tax payers money to send them to America just lie isn't that the whole point of radio you can be anyone and be anywhere and we wouldnt know the difference….