Appologies in advance for this extremely long blog post.
Before I get on with this blog post I feel I need to say that anything written here is my own personal opinion, that I’m not even convinced I agree with any of it and that I am a 100% fully committed supporter of the licence fee and the way it is currently used.
So all that said lets take a look at the TV licence – the £142.50 almost every home in Britain has to pay for the right to have a television – and more specifically how it can be applied in an online, on demand world.
Recently Erik Huggers, BBC Future Media and Technology boss expressed a ‘personal opinion’ that it might be time to look at how the licence fee can be extended to the include those watching only on a computer.
He said: “My view is that if you are using the iPlayer you have to be a television licence fee payer. I don’t believe in a free ride. If you are consuming BBC services then you have to be a licence holder.”
Obviously at this point I should probably mention that the current ‘official BBC position’ is that a television licence is only needed if you are watching live, as broadcast programming – not on demand.
TV licensing currently state that you need a licence to: “Use any TV equipment such as TV set, digital box, video or DVD recorder, computer or mobile phone to watch or record TV programmes as they are being shown on television.”
You can police the television, digital box, video/DVD recorder side of that fairly easily – you just make sure that when someone buys any of those devices they have a TV licence – or at the very least you take their name and address so it can be checked against the TV licensing database.
It is possible that someone buying one of these devices has no intention of using it to watch television – they could be getting it to watch DVDs, copy DVDs, burn their homemade movies or play games.
More often than not, statistically people buy a television to watch TV, a DVD recorder to record TV and a digital box – well to watch digital TV.
But the opposite of that probably applies to computers and mobile phones. I expect it to be the opposite with those devices where the majority are using them for anything BUT watching TV.
OK so millions do use the iPlayer on a regular basis – but far fewer watch television live through the iPlayer and even the millions watching on demand is a considerable amount lower than those watching television generally.
At the moment making sure those watching live TV via a mobile or computer sort of relies on them being honest: “Yes guv, I’ve got a licence and wouldn’t dream of watching TV on my computer without one.”
Or equally, or even more often: “Nah I don’t use it, can’t use it and couldn’t work out how to use it even if I wanted to.”
But technically anybody could use it, they could decide not to own a TV and watch all their television live over the internet through their fat broadband line and 30” computer screen.
Which means they can be using all the BBC services that the rest of us are paying for – I think those watching only on a computer who don’t have a licence – should have a licence if they want to use the iPlayer.
But the question is – how do you do that without upsetting people that have no intention of owning a TV or watching TV on their computer?
It isn’t a problem at the moment as most people watching on the computer probably have a television and in turn a licence as well.
But what about in the future when 50mb broadband is common place, when large computer screens are common place – or even laptops in the bedroom?
How do we get around that problem?
Well I can see a few solutions and one jumped out at me when I opened the post on Saturday to find my new TV licence.
The letter included not one but two big blue boxes with my TV licence number in it. There are even instructions on the back for entering your licence number on the TV licensing website to find out or update your details.
So if people are getting comfortable entering the number to update details on the TV licencing site – why not enter it on to the BBC website to use iPlayer?
OK so the number could potentially be shared between people – students using their parents number while at university – but you could get around that problem by tying the number to a MAC address or IP range/ISP.
Or you just ignore that problem, accept it as a fact of life and move on.
I don’t think entering your TV licence number when registering for access to the iPlayer is such a big deal – however, having recently spent a morning teaching people who can’t use a mouse to get online – I have a different perspective over what is easy.
That extra step might put people off the wonder of the iPlayer, off a valuable and useful BBC service that comes as part of the licence fee they’re paying – it’s those people, and the honest ones this will cause problems for – not the tech savvy ones who will find ways around it.
No, in my opinion we should probably continue to rely on honesty – with a twist.
Build a codec/include into the iPlayer stream player (live only) that you have to install/accept – make it as seamless and painless as possible – click YES to watch live TV sort of seamless.
That way instead of requiring a licence fee if you own a computer – you only require the fee if you have this codec installed on your computer.
Like I said at the start though – just a few random thoughts for preserving the licence fee – that I think is so vital to the massive British creative industry – imagine the quality of TV we’d all suffer if it wasn’t for this collective good that we contribute to together – much like the NHS, schools, libraries and to a certain extent – the armed forces.
I don’t think this will be a problem for at least a decade, by which time we will be entering another charter renewal anyway – and who knows what that might throw up.
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