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Licence Free


Long time readers of my wibblings here know that we don't have a TV licence and haven't since before we moved here, something which has even got me into the New York Times in the past.

But now the UK has BBC iPlayer which means it's perfectly legal for us to watch BBC programmes without having a licence so long as we don't watch programmes being broadcast in real time (so that's mainly news programmes, sport programmes like the Formula One Grand Prix, and BBC Parliament1). Similarly we can watch programmes broadcast on Channel 4 via their 4 on Demand web site2.

This does seem like a slightly ludicrous situation and some people have questioned whether it can really be true but it is, and Ashley Highfield, Director, BBC Future Media and Technology, wrote about this in his blog soon after it was launched. He said:

This raises the next question: "so is the iPlayer undermining the licence fee?".

Well, the number of homes that currently have no television licence, but that do have broadband subscription is currently estimated to be infinitesimally small. The chances are if you want to watch BBC TV programmes via catch-up over the web, you are also watching some BBC programmes at other times, live or time-shifted, via a TV set, and will already have a TV licence.

If we saw, over time, that some people stopped receiving live broadcasts at all, stopped paying their licence fee, but continued to consume television programmes, solely on-demand [then] we might have to consider talking to the Government [so] that they can then consider whether on-demand tv viewing might be brought within its aegis.

I'm wondering how long it will be before we reach that stage. As people increasingly move away from watching programmes in real time using a variety of Tivo like devices recording to hard disk the paradigm of watching programmes at broadcast time which we were all brought up on is fading. And if we can get programmes in HD over the Net without having to remember to program the Tivo then that will become the way to watch television for a lot of people? If it does then will they still be interesting in paying for a licence in order to watch the channels which aren't available on the Net?

Anyway, enough navel gazing as I did want to mention a couple of programmes I have watched on iPlayer over the last week. Traffic Cops is back. It's in Cardiff again and very entertaining but I did wonder whether the producer really failed to miss PC Ben Thomas' line, said with a very straight face while talking about the cakes he brought into the office for the day shift:

Nothing like a moist muffin off my wife before work.

It certainly made me giggle and I suspect a lot of Cardiff cops with similarly filthy minds did the same.

And I also watched the first episode of the new Doctor Who starring Matt Smith as the Doctor. I confess I'd not seen any of the David Tennant episodes, despite being a fan of his from his radio work. Anyway I was, I have to say, most impressed with the episode I saw. The Doctor comes over as just slightly barking, he has a way of smiling that makes you want to back away very slowly, and his new sidekick is sassy and pretty as is traditional so that's good. The plot was a nice blend of funny and implausible and I would have hidden behind the sofa if I was ten so it scored there too.

So I can see me watching that again.

But I still don't have a licence. Annoying isn't it?

  1. None of this is a problem for me as I didn't want to do that anyway, the one programme I do watch as it's broadcast is, bizarrely, one that's on the radio. A live video stream of Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode's film reviews on Friday on BBC Five Live is put out by the BBC. I can't decide whether I really need a licence for that: after all I'm watching a radio programme!
  2. Although in truth I can't recommend it: their software sucks compared to the BBC's, it often stalls part way through a programme and resuming doesn't work.

Tags: tv Written 11/04/10

Previous comments about this article:

On 12/04/10 at 10:26pm Tim Steele wrote:

As you say something will have to be done if more and more people watch online and don't pay. I could do that but I feel as I watch a fair number of BBC programmes (all on iPlayer) I should pay for a licence even though I don't strictly speaking need one. I do accept that others may feel differently and not want to pay and as things stand there's no reason why they should.

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