Is the TV licence fit for the 21st century?

TV LicencingThe Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has confirmed that the BBC will fund the free TV licences for the over 75s which will be phased in from 2018-2019. The changes will add up to £650m savings from the £12bn the government has announced is to be cut from welfare.

At the same time the TV Licence will be modernised to allow them to charge for access to catch up TV on BBC iPlayer.

That will bring the iPlayer into direct competition with marketplaces and other online TV services. Amazon have their ex-LoveFilm offering Prime Instant Video and Rakuten with their “Shopping is Entertainment!” slogan have the Waiki TV service. They again are competing against the likes of NetFlix and Sky Box Sets and Sky Go.

The BBC has more competition than ever and it would appear reasonable that they monetise their online services in the same way that their competitors do. Plus it’s easy for people to shrug their shoulders, refuse to pay the TV licence and simply watch catch up TV on iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD etc for free. If iPlayer remains free as part of your annual licence fee then the change will only affect those who don’t pay for the TV licence in the first place, however the people in this category will no doubt view it as a stealth tax.

Ultimately the BBC licence fee is an anachronism from a bygone age. The first TV licences came into effect in 1946 and in it’s current form which assumes you watch TV on a box plugged into an aerial. When introduced the TV Licence also covered the radio, although you could purchase a separate radio only licence right up until 1971.

Personally I still like the BBC and it’s rich variety of programming and it’s a bargain for the £145 per year (although not quite so much of a bargain now that they’ve lost their Top Gear presenters!) The issue isn’t so much who pays for the over 75 year old free licences or whether BBC iPlayer remains free or becomes covered by the licence. The larger issue is will anyone still be watching TV in another decade or so or will we all be subscribed to marketplace offerings or other streaming services?