View Full Version : BBC TV licence fee may extend to iPlayer

31st October 2011, 10:37 AM
Government considering licence fee changes to close loophole for those watching TV via online catch-up services

The television licence fee could be extended to cover catch-up services such as the BBC iPlayer as part of an overhaul of the levy being considered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

British viewers must pay for a £145.50 television licence if they watch or record programmes as they are broadcast, whether viewed via a television, computer, mobile phone or video games console.

However, computer catch-up services such as the BBC iPlayer – via which 153m television and radio programmes were broadcast in September – do not require a licence.

The issue is likely to intensify over the next year, as a rash of new internet-enabled set-top boxes, including the BBC-backed YouView, are expected to launch.

A number of industry experts have suggested that services such as YouView, which will bring iPlayer to the television set, will result in increasing numbers of viewers claiming not to watch television as it is transmitted, instead pulling popular programmes such as Downton Abbey and Strictly Come Dancing from broadcasters' catch-up offerings.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, says it is considering changes to the licence fee. A spokesman said: "Government is aware of developing technologies and the changing viewing habits of those who watch television programmes. How the BBC is funded as these issues evolve is a matter the department will need to address in the near future."

The department would not comment on the changes it is considering, but the legislation governing the licence fee is contained within the Communications Act.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has already committed to a new communications bill within the current Parliament, and a green paper is expected to be published around Christmas.

Hunt said last year that the way the fee is collected may have to be rethought, but added: "We are not going to introduce a PC licence fee."

The BBC insists that no changes are needed, pointing to its own research showing that only 0.2% of households watch only catch-up television, with no live viewing, each week. A spokesman said: "We believe the current system works very efficiently and do not see a need to change its scope at present."

However, research carried out by the BBC Trust in 2009, before services such as YouView were conceived, conceded that changes may be necessary.

In its 2009 review of licence fee collection, the Trust wrote: "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. It is clear, however, that this is happening in some segments – research for the BBC Executive shows that 40% of students in halls of residence use a laptop as their main way to watch TV.

"Households may also take the opportunity that Video on Demand presents to forgo live television entirely, although the pull of live events may act against this."

source: guardian.co.uk/media/2011/oct/31/bbc-tv-licence-fee-extend-to-iplayer