Starting today, you’ll need a TV license to watch iPlayer. That means no Bake Off, no Match Of The Day and no Poldark unless you’re willing to cough up the £145.50 fee.
It’s always been the case that you needed a TV license to watch live broadcasts, but iPlayer, like other terrestrial networks’ streaming sites All 4, ITV Hub and My 5, used to be free to use. However, with no advertising revenue and an increasing percentage of their audience moving online, the Beeb are asking you to step up and start paying for their online streaming service regardless of whether you have a TV plugged into an aerial.
The demand seems fair enough. BBC productions are high budget and wide ranging, and use talented British actors, writers, and journalists. This isn’t cheap and the BBC’s charter relies on them remaining ad-free and dependant on the license fee.
With 83 million subscribers to Netflix, and millions more subscribed to the Amazon Prime Video service, it’s increasingly clear that audiences would rather pay for content than watch countless ads. By introducing the license fee for iPlayer consumers, the BBC is simply copying the subscriber streaming services. Sadly though, they’re majorly missing the mark on what these services offer at what cost. Starting at just £5.99 a month, both streaming services will cost you less than half what you’d pay for a license fee over the course of the year.
And they’re certainly providing value for money. Netflix has 222 pieces of original content and first run releases, with more being added all the time.
But more than that, their content remains fresh, contemporary, usually independent and expertly directed at a younger audience. Groundbreaking documentaries like Making a Murderer have totally warped the office water cooler conversation, and you can guarantee that by the time you’ve binge watched your way through one box set, Netflix will be ready with fresh new content within days. The BBC, with its obligations to loyal (and older) audiences, simply can’t keep up with that pace when they still have to churn out soaps like Holby City and EastEnders, and fit around compact broadcasting schedules. Painfully old fashioned shows like Mrs Brown’s Boys might be overwhelmingly popular with the Are You Being Served fans of yesteryear, but feel like an embarrassing stain for a corporation that wants to move forward with digital trends and a younger audience. It’s hard to imagine a 19-year-old student feeling happy about paying for the privilege of watching the endless antiques programmes the BBC shows.
Mrs Brown’s Boys – an embarrassing stain on the BBC
The shared account system of Netflix has successfully sacrificed profits in favour of brand recognition. With some packages, you essentially get four subscriptions for the price of one. This works because Netflix knows how hard it is to give up on Breaking Bad mid-series when your ex blocks your account access. But unless all your friends live in the same household, you simply can’t share a license fee. Maybe we’ll go over to our mates’ houses to watch Bake Off en masse, but with many young people now no longer even owning a traditional TV, it’s difficult to imagine TV licenses existing in every UK household.
Were the BBC to offer a cheaper, iPlayer-only monthly fee to rival the price of Netflix and Amazon Prime, the demands might seem more reasonable and practical. As it is, asking students to pay the stinging £145.50 a year for remakes of ‘70s sitcoms when a cheaper, bolder service lies just two clicks away is simply out of touch and unrealistic.
Plus, Stranger Things Season 2 is coming. There’s no way everyone’s ditching Netflix now we’re in this deep…