So we all know the news. From September 1, 2016 anyone watching BBC shows on demand will be legally required to have a TV licence. I understand the sentiment. BBC is funded from TV licence. You want to watch BBC – you need to pay for TV licence. BBC were pushed by rivals, other content providers, into charging for their content.
The questions that the move arises are numerous: Channel4 and ITV on demand services remain free, then why BBC only? What about people who can’t afford a TV licence? This may further isolate them. Do we overall believe TV licence is a good model for the 21st century where increasingly people stream their content and often don’t own a TV, or should we use this as an opportunity for a complete overhaul and look for better, more flexible and accessible pay TV models that are out there?
It’s total ignorance of the market trends that bothers me. Streaming is growing. There are many people who do not watch traditional TV (cord cutters) or snack on content across platforms. If they want to keep access to BBC iPlayer or Kids, they would prefer to pay a monthly fee, on a pay as you go basis. Whereas TV licence is effectively an annual contract, you can pay monthly (£12 a month), but for a year and in the first 6 months you have to pay £24 a month. Why? What is the logic here?
When I pay £7.49 for Netflix monthly, around £70 for Prime yearly, both on pay as you go basis, and only intend to use BBC Kids for example, without watching live TV, £24 and £145.50 seems an unfair overinflated fee. £12 or less a month on a pay as you go basis would have been more logical but then this is where TV licence like all other traditional institutions locks itself in its outdated logic. It is £145.50 a year or the highway.
This is why Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms will be the winners this September by instantly boosting the number of their subscribers – people will be experimenting with the more flexible, pay as you go alternatives to the hefty TV licence fee. And if either of these streaming heavyweights can secure rights to the top BBC content, including cartoons, no one will ever go back to the BBC iPlayer.
Some of the current 500,000 on demand iPlayer users will shell out, however TV licence fee feels so archaic, so out of sync with times that many cord cutters and content snackers will struggle buying into the concept. They will stay away and switch over to or increase use of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms instead. No one wins really, which is why BBC and TV Licensing Agency should have a hard think about the step back that they are taking – this is not what we need when as a country we want to lead the digital revolution.
In the meantime I will need to explain to my 4 year old why we will be replacing Andy, Dr Ranj and Bing with Storybots, Team Umizoomi and Max and Ruby. The good news – both Netflix and Amazon drummed up their kids content, so transition will be smooth. My little one might just grow up on American cartoons, not even knowing what the BBC iPlayer is.