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Why I want a compulsory TV licence to go

Black and white old TV

In a media world defined by choice, the BBC licence fee is an outdated compulsory subscription model that should be scrapped. How can we keep justifying this outdated TV fee?

The media environment is defined by choice. But the one element that’s missing is the choice to pay the licence fee or not.

We are forced to pay the licence fee by law, and thereby forced to pay for the BBC, despite alternatives being freely and widely available.

And as technology delivers alternative ways to watch TV, so the fee’s justification crumbles.

So, here’s my opinion on why it should be scrapped. Jon Barrow argues for keeping the TV licence in his Conversation ‘Why I’m in favour of the TV licence’.

Good value for money?

Fans of the licence fee insist Auntie beeb is good value for money and a bastion of quality and independence.

Indeed, the service sometimes does deliver high-quality programming the envy of the world over (insert the title of any David Attenborough film here), with no adverts and independent of the whims of media tycoons.

That’s all fine, but ignores the lack of real choice at the heart of the equation. Good value for money? If you don’t want to buy the product it’s not.

The guardian of quality and independence?

But surely the BBC ensures we enjoy high-quality programming the like the rest of the world can only sit and envy? Come again? Whilst this may have been true 20 years ago, nowadays it’s arguably the likes of non-publically funded HBO and AMC among others that are responsible for the ‘new golden age of TV’, not the BBC.

No adverts? Try using a PVR. And arguing that the BBC is a bulwark against nefarious tycoons foisting their political opinions should instead be an argument for regulatory bodies with teeth and strict regulation on ownership, not a compelling reason to keep subsidising.

If the licence fee was scrapped would the airwaves be awash with tosh rather than quality drama? The evidence would suggest otherwise. Award-winning shows such as Sopranos, Mad Men, The Wire and others are the product of subscription based TV, not subsidy.

In fact, many would argue that without the assured billions (£3.5 billion at the last count) from the hapless licence fee payer we would see a BBC that was forced to concentrate on the bits that could ensure it makes its own way in the world. And then move away from its own mind-numbing catalogue of low-quality programming (which looks a lot like the derided free stuff on the commercial channels).

Nevertheless there are millions of viewers who’ve happily been paying for the corporation for years. And given the choice will carry on paying for all the bits they love – the good bits. Cut out the largesse, put the BBC on an equal competitive footing and let the corporation show us what it can really do.

Pay-up or lock-up

A fuss over nothing? After all, the licence fee amounts to just a few quid a week. Unfortunately not. The licence fee is an anachronism, enforced by the strong arm of the law (and zealous BBC fee collectors) to make sure we cough up.

Using TV equipment (including computers) to watch TV as it is broadcast without the appropriate licence is a criminal offence and non-payment of fines can lead to prison.

In the words of one of the many BBC adverts doing the rounds, ‘Your town, your street, your home… it is all in our database.’ Good old Auntie!

Read the other side of the story in Jon Barrow’s ‘Why I’m in favour of the TV licence’ here.

What do you think about the BBC TV licence fee?

I agree with Jon and think it's worth the price (58%, 156 Votes)

I agree with Mike and think it should be optional (42%, 112 Votes)

Total Voters: 268

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Sinead says:
25 October 2011

I still don’t see why I should have to pay for something I don’t want. Surely for those who want it can pay for it. Those who don’t should be allowed to opt out. With digital tv now surely there is a way for those who don’t want the bbc to be disallowed from viewing their channels, same as having sky tv and not paying for the movie channels. As for the radio, I’m sure we can come up with something – a pin number for example. If someone came to my door asking me to buy a hoover and I didn’t want it that would be fair, but if they twisted my arm round my back and said but you have to buy it – would that be fair? It’s against my consumer rights. And I think it’s about time people in this country got off their fat backsides and started looking after them, because before we know it we’ll wake up one day and realise they were taken from under our noses.

Tester says:
24 October 2012

This tax needs to be stopped now, I would happily not watch the bbc if it meant saving a few she knows and avoid paying for the bbc’s perverts to carry on their work. It should be noted that the tv detector vans have never led to a conviction and should the licensing agent call at your premises you do not have to allow access you also do not have to give them your name and should you not admit you have a television there is NO legal way they can take you to to court, unless you admit it.

Tester says:
24 October 2012

Please replace she knows above with shekles !, again check the Internet for the facts given and see they are correct

spiceman says:
26 June 2013

I don’t care about the radio, i don’t care about ads on TV, i care about money in my pocket.
Having to think of every penny, consider the bills first before pleasure, having to tell your kids we cant afford it this month on a regular basis, tax after tax is not a way to live!
TV licence is totally unjustified specially when you hear about the millions given to BBC chiefs! its unbelievable.
If you notice BBC comedy shows you will find its not funny at all, nothing decent to watch before 8pm so why wast out money like this??

lets see the BBC charge you a TV licence But they can not deliver the programmes without piggybacking on others providing their programmes. For example, sky provides you with a box and a satellite dish, what do the BBC provide you with.? You have to buy the equipment yourself and then they charge you to use it.?
Everyone said its good value. How much do you pay to watch four channels and most of the programmes are repeats? Over 75s , if ten elderly people came into the country to stay and they are over 75 how does that stop the BBC losing money, by not charging people over 75 a tv licence they are losing money. I say stop paying people like Nigella one million for each programme she makes she is not even a proper cook

The TV licence fee is just another tax from which the revenues go direct to the BBC to avoid the government having to make a direct grant and taking away the BBC’s independence as a broadcaster. It has very little to do with the quality or appeal of BBC programmes because you have to have a TV licence if you never watch or listen to BBC programmes. The question really is whether we need the BBC, or could we get all our broadcast entertainment from other channels and alternative media?

I consider the BBC’s TV output that I watch selectively to be very high quality and good value for money. There is an enormous amount that I do not watch so I have no idea of its quality but the entertainment and drama programmes appear to be extremely popular so they must be getting something right.

I don’t watch programmes about food and cooking but I suspect that Nigella is a highly-paid presenter for more than her culinary skills.

Roy Moore says:
16 February 2021

I don’t object to the TV licence, I do, however, object to the money going to the BBC. The BBC are far from the impartial broadcaster everyone claims them to be (just try watching from one of the devolved nations). It is run by the same old boys club that haunts Westminster and only serves to harbour bully’s and sexual deviants.

As Well As The Fee To Get The I Player An Internet Connection Is Required Thus This Is Not A Free Service
How Much Are Licience Fee Payers Contrubiting To Britbox A Subscrtiption Service
If People Cannot Aford A Licence Fee How Can They Pay For The Internet

I pay under £20 a month for phone and broadband. I have an amazon firestick Amazon Prime costs £7.99 a month, endless channels, tv stations, programs and you can add extra as and when you want. Like Disney £5.99. Oh yes included is unlimited free next day delivery on most of products on Amazon. The licence fee doesnt come anywhere near for giving value for money. The only reason they want to keep it is so they can carry on paying those obsene amounts in salaries.

There is another group of people who like the kind of programmes the BBC broadcast on TV and, of course, local and national radio, and don’t want them continually interrupted by adverts. They are prepared to pay £3 a week for that.

The only reason they want to keep it is so they can carry on paying those obsene amounts in salaries.

I’m not aware of any obscene salaries being paid, Ruth. The vastly overpaid Gary Lineker has taken a wage cut this year, and after Zoe Ball the remainder of the top salaried staff are being paid less than half a million PA. I can think of quite a few companies in the UK that pay their top earners a great deal more, the banks to mention just one.

But what’s interesting is that the current Director General was a Tory Politician, and the
current BBC Chair is actually a huge Tory donor. The Tories have believed for some time that the BBC is very left wing, although the facts do not support this assertion.

Chopping the licence fee would mean two things: the BBC would have to start accepting advertisements so TV shows would start being chopped up into segments, with each hour of TV consisting of 20 minutes of adverts. That would prove untenable, as the independent channels already struggle, given so much advertising revenue is being diverted to Facebook and its ilk.

The second thing is that providing News coverage–the single greatest expense for any TV channel–would probably become unviable.

For the cost, the BBC is exceptionally good value for money. Many spend almost £1000 a year on Sky and even Netflix costs about the same as the current licence fee.

And when you include Radio there’s really no competition.

Then why do we have to put up with BBC advertising their own programmes? I have just counted a total of four advertisements for BBC forthcoming programmes in the interval between Wanted Down Under and Caught Red Handed. The latter does seem rather appropriate.

What would you prefer in the intervals, Beryl? A return to the Interludes showing exceedingly boring perpetual motion pictures? Or a Test Card with nondescript music? I find the trailers and previews — which all channels have — quite useful for reminding us about upcoming programmes so we can set to record them.

Programme junctions are sometimes a technical challenge for broadcasters, especially the BBC which often has alternative programmes in different regions and sometimes has live TV preceding or following recorded material, because all the transmitters have to be synchronised to carry the network broadcast and then joined or split as necessary.

Many here have advocated public service broadcasts as infill material but that would be contractual whereas the trailers are optional and can be dropped or extended according to the time available.

The BBC sells to the viewers the programme content it makes and gives its airtime away, whereas commercial channels sell their airtime to advertisers [for recharge to consumers] but give away to the viewers the content it makes.

I don’t see why they should not inform us of what is coming up in their schedule. And, crucially, this does not happen at intervals within a program.

I prefer to select from the plethora of TV channels available to me by simply pressing a button on the remote control and choosing which programme to watch John.

I have a choice of news channels where I am able to compare each country’s journalistic interpretations of world events at global level. There are so many educational, musical and entertaining choices also to be found on You Tube where I can view repeats of particular interest to me and not those repeated repeats that are selected by BBC entrepreneurs and impresarios.

I see very little difference between advertising for ones own gains and advertising for another’s, but do question why one is free and funded by the advertiser and the other is lawfully required to be paid for by the consumer, the latter possessing the power to deprive the other if one refuses to pay up when you would rather be watching something else on a different channel free of charge.

That is tantamount to control by administrative impropriety and imposition.

So it’s really about money – I thought you just disliked the programme promos!

We can all roam around the channels if we have the paid-for facilities that enable it but I like to know what the BBC and the other home channels are planning to show because those are the ones we usually watch. We might miss good things without the previews.

From the BBC’s point of view, it is is important as the recipient of universal funding through a licence fee that it promotes its programmes to the optimum audience in order to justify its ‘administrative imposition’.

In practical terms, we don’t actually pay to watch BBC TV — we pay to have a television or other receiving device upon which we can exercise the choices you have described.

I had always assumed that repeats, and repeated repeats, were delivered in response to public demand, not as a result of selection by “BBC entrepreneurs and impresarios” [whatever they might be]. If they had to depend on advertising or other commercial revenue many good programmes would never get a second showing.

I question whether most of the other channels available would be worth watching if a generally high standard wasn’t set by the BBC and the original material it generates.

I don’t like the commercial advertisements but even less do I like the repetitive sponsorship plugs before and after every segment of a popular show on the other channels; some programmes have ten such spots in an hour. Those types of programmes also waste our time by having sixty seconds of “Coming up . . . ” and another sixty seconds of “What you’ve just watched . . . ” around every advert break.

Phil says:
30 August 2021

I’ve found you can safely skip the first three minutes of many programmes without missing any real content. It’s all a re-cap of the previous episode and/or ‘coming up’.

Having the BBC rely on advertising would be the end of Public Service broadcasting and the start of a terminal decline in the quality of British TV. There’s only a finite amount of TV advertising money available and these days broadcasters have to compete for it against other platforms, Pay Per View, Internet etc. The more channels there are the less money they each get and the less they have to spend on programmes. There’ll be even more repeats and more low quality LCD programming.

I was on a Zoom call the other week, and the presenter had a hugee technical hitch requiring him to reboot his whole system (PC, mixer desk.. the works). I knew this would take a while so I searched fast – and found – and put the Youtube link in the chat window…. to The Potters Wheel interlude. The giggles came in series so the overall appreciation of this piece of light hearted skylarking was high and it truly lightened the load!

BBC programmes might not contain adverts, but they still make programmes to accommodate them.

For example, programmes such as Countryfile that have several ‘storylines’. The programme starts with what the episode contains, it starts the 1st story, tells you what is still to come (advert time), starts the 2nd story, tells you what is still to come (advert time), starts the 4th story, reminds you what you saw in the 1st story, (advert time) reminds you what you saw earlier, finish 1st story, etc.

I agree with John and dislike programmes that do this, don’t they think what we can remember what we saw 20 minutes ago? It greatly reduces actual content and should the BBC be making programmes for adverts when it is a non-commercial channel? Thank goodness for being able to record programmes and fast-forward the bits you don’t want.

I have no objection to all TV channels promoting future programmes as many a time we would have missed a new series. Sometimes Sky automatically starts recording it, but many times it doesn’t.

I also dislike the repetitive sponsorship plugs particularly the Dove one of the girl with bright pink hair who had no respect for the business she worked for and smugly quit her job when told she did not look professional. These are harder to fast-forward without missing the start of the programme.

I do think more public information should be shown on the BBC especially scam warnings. I have seen Which? sponsorship plugs and these could be put to better use.

The assumption that the average TV audience members has an attention span best measured in tens of milliseconds is, I agree, intensely irritating. The trend started in the US, which has, for many years, made one third of its total show time as adverts and where it is openly assumed by US media execs that audiences are generally lacking in intellect and concentration.

In terms of allowing for advertising, however, the BBC charter requires it compete with ITV and other channels so I accept it has to make shows that will play well in the other markets. The BBC itself owns and runs 14 channels, including the acclaimed CBeebies and CBBC, and BBC studios owns a further 8, each of which takes advertising to fund its own model. They also jointly own channels with ITV.

I assumed Countryfile was made for the daytime audience and got shoved onto Sunday evenings before the Antiques Roadshow to ease my generation into a gentle slumber ready for the rigours of the week ahead. I note that the weather forecaster is required to wear a ‘country’ style shirt for that spot.

While on the subject of TV personality remuneration, I guess Countryfile‘s resident farmer must be doing alright. He was showing off his massively expensive new crop machinery the other night in a piece about his spread’s carbon footprint. From what he was saying I reckoned he was the overlord of around 1000 acres of prime Cotswold land and some pretty valuable livestock. Does he grow potatoes?

BBC TV programmes have to be padded out so that they can be edited down to fit the format when sold to commercial stations overseas.

86% of your TV Licence is spent on BBC TV Channels, BBC Sounds and online services, my point being, unless you pay for this exclusive service you are prevented, by law, from watching all the other free channels available. This is a form of control by administrative impropriety and imposition.

tv.licensing.co.uk – What Does Your TV Licence Fee Pay For?

No different in principle to a bit of one’s council tax being diverted to library upkeep. FWIW I support both.

This is a form of control by administrative impropriety and imposition.

Not really,as Roger points out. Taxation comes in many guises and, for the most part, we simply have to accept it.

I have no objection to 86% of the TV Licence revenue being spent on BBC TV programmes. That is what the licensing system is there for. Without it, the BBC’s content would be dependent on the whims and fortunes of the advertising industry or subject to the influence of politicians. I agree with Phil: it would mark the end of public service broadcasting in the UK. Let’s not forget that the BBC is a very big export earner because its content is in high demand around the world and also turns up on some of the other UK channels because of its enduring popularity.

Beryl wrote: “86% of your TV Licence is spent on BBC TV Channels, BBC Sounds and online services, my point being, unless you pay for this exclusive service you are prevented, by law, from watching all the other free channels available.”

In fact you can legally watch most TV programmes without a TV licence, as long as they are not ‘live’ or you are watching via BBC iPlayer.

That is an unfair and unrealistic comparison. You are not barred from Waterstones if you prefer to go there for a book that you can’t find in your local library.

To revert back to Ruth Mawsons comment @ 09.10 today, take a look at where your ‘tax’ is going.

inews.co.uk – BBC Pay 2021: The Full List of Presenters Salaries – and the Broadcasters Highest Paid Stars.

Gary Lineker tops the list once again despite a recent pay cut, and also earns a tidy sum on commercial channels by his frequent Walkers crisps adverts.

Phil says:
31 August 2021

Because the BBC overspends on its talent (or should that be ‘talent’?) isn’t a fault with the license system but in the way the system is administered. That could be corrected with better control and management.

That is an unfair and unrealistic comparison. You are not barred from Waterstones if you prefer to go there for a book that you can’t find in your local library

To the best of my knowledge, Waterstones don’t offer a subscription model to allow you to read (either in store or at home) as many books as you like each month for a reasonable fee – although I truly may be out of date here, and an on-line book rental service may well be available on one’s Kindle or similar.

To continue your analogy, if you don’t have a BBC license, you’re entitled to watch TV – any channel – at a pub or a friend’s house provided the friend is appropriately licensed, and to watch any film at a cinema. You could also do as the hapless contestant did back in the 60s and watch The Golden Shot from a phone box opposite Rumbelows!

Unless I were to change my reading habits I can barely get six books for the cost of a TV licence.

Who cares how much the BBC pays Gary Lineker? He’s an agreeable fellow with an attractive personality and bags of knowledge about soccer and its tactics. It’s hard to suggest an adequate alternative. Many people in the public service get paid a lot for much less satisfaction. And somebody has to be the face of the potato crisp; I expect the role has its drawbacks.

I pay more than my TV licence costs each year to subscribe to Which? Which one offers the best value for money?

Thanks for supporting Which?, Malcolm.

Following a review of my interests and outgoings I recently quit Which? so appear here as a freeloader.

John Ward says: Today 09:31
Who cares how much the BBC pays Gary Lineker?

Quite a few on the Tory benches, I suspect, who see football as the sole prerogative of the ‘lower classes’.

So where do Tory MP’s stand in the value-for-money stakes?

There was a recent repeat of an episode of Yes, Minister in which the proletarian minister [just posturing as a man of the people] supporting his constituency football team was pitted against the civil servant mandarins who slipped off early to go to the opera.

🙂 I liked that episode. In reply to your question, however, I’d say YM had it just about right. The issue hinges around how we–or they–define value.

For me it’s more about freedom to choose. Unless I subscribe to the BBC’s coffers, I am unable to watch a wide range of the other free programmes available.

I am not prepared to pay for continuous repeated episodes of Dads Army or Yes Minister when I could watch Prime Ministers Questions for real, (and often much more entertaining) on Sky News for free. If the BBC insist on me paying £159pa, then that should not include advertising their own forthcoming events when other channels do likewise gratis for viewers.

It’s the government that determines the licence fee, not the BBC. The BBC has asked for an inflation-linked fee but the government has declined and insists the BBC makes economies.

Beryl says:Today 12:49
For me it’s more about freedom to choose. Unless I subscribe to the BBC’s coffers, I am unable to watch a wide range of the other free programmes available.

That’s not actually true, Beryl. So long as you don’t watch programmes in ‘real time’ (or use iPlayer) you don’t need a licence.

However, nothing is for free; or do you not think you should pay to watch any shows on BBC?

To reiterate I have no problem paying the TV Licence Fee if the BBC refrain from advertising between their own programmes, a point, once again, I have attempted to convey without much success. Anything else you interpret from my previous comments is misconstrued.

”The BBC funding model needs to be pulled into the 21st century. The UK has a long history of successful mutuals and co-operatives that are popular with their members. Such an ownership model for the BBC would be fit for purpose in the modern broadcasting world, detach the BBC from the State, and promote real diversity of corporate structures in the world of media.”
Professor Philip Booth, Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

To read the full article log onto: politics.co.uk – BBC Licence Fee: All You Need To Know About the BBC Licence Fee.

The BBC still maintains its editorial independence, but it is mandated by OFCOM to remain politically impartial.

Advertising is being paid to promote a third party’s products or services. The BBC do not do that; they give information about their own products.

As for pay, just as Which? defend their high salaries as necessary to attract “the right people” so does the BBC – along with almost every other institution that goes into the limited marketplace to find top employees. Try football, for example.

I think 43 pence a day to select from 3 tv programmes, 9(?) radio programmes plus regional, and to choose many offerings on iplayer – including Dads Army, Montelbano, Yes Minister and excellent documentaries – all without irritating commercials interrupting the flow it is an absolute bargain. You do not have to be inundated with stuff from elsewhere, just watch selectively. There are other things more worthwhile than being fed electronic “entertainment”. Which reminds me I must tidy the garage as I have furniture to make.

Incidentally, anyone bought cinema tickets lately? How many of those do you get for the price of your tv licence?

If you are content to pay anything at all to watch the same old stuff over and over again, then so be it.

Fortunately, there are still those who, despite advancing years prefer to live in the here and now and pay for what they choose to buy and not what they are forced to buy, irrespective of whether they can afford it or not, or to have to endure interrogation by enforcing government officers and heavily penalised if you can’t afford to buy.

Cinema tickets are not recommended “lately” as covid is still doing what it does best by invading peoples personal space and confining them to their own homes to watch their TV, subject of course to them having paid their TV Licence,

Well, that just isn‘t the case. Not in my view. But, we all have our own take on this. I just hope, after 2027, we are left with a choice of watching adverts interrupted by programmes, or uninterrupted programmes with scheduling information in the intervals between them. 🙂 🙁

Whether or not we watch “the same old stuff over and over again” is a matter of personal choice. There is enough output on the BBC channels, and on all the other channels to which a TV licence enables access, to never watch the same thing twice even if you spent twelve hours a day in front of the box.

I have enjoyed watching Fawlty Towers and Yes Minister recently when the series were repeated because they were outstandingly good programmes the like of which never appears on any other channel.

Over the years various alternatives to the TV licence have been examined and none has been considered acceptable in safeguarding the BBC and being low enough not to be a financial burden. People over 75 in receipt of pension credit will continue to be eligible for a free TV licence. The cost of a TV licence is factored into the cost of living calculations alongside other essential expenditure items. The licence fee can be paid in fortnightly instalments.