BBC iPlayer users may have to pay TV licence fee

The advent of internet-connected services like YouView could prompt a change in the law, says government

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Viewers who consume all their TV through catch-up services like BBC iPlayer may soon have to fork out for a licence just like everyone else.

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The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is considering extending the requirement for a TV licence to those claiming to watch only catch-up TV, as internet-connected televisions and set-top boxes look increasingly like being the future of viewing for some consumers.

British residents who watch television as it is broadcast – whether it be on a TV set, computer, games console or mobile phone – are required to pay the £145.50 annual fee for a TV licence. But streaming or downloading programmes from iPlayer after they have been shown is currently allowed without a licence.

According to the BBC, only around 0.2 per cent of households watch TV via just catch-up services, but it is widely believed that the advent of internet-connected set-top boxes such as YouView could lead to a significant increase in those claiming not to watch traditional television broadcasts – and therefore not contributing to the licence fee.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport 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.”

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YouView is a collaboration between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and on-demand TV providers Talk Talk and BT Vision. It will allow viewers to watch catch-up services on their TV sets for the one-off cost of a set-top box. It is expected to launch next year.