I have cancelled my television licence. My current licence is valid up until and including 30th November 2012. This post is about why I have made this decision and states the facts and information I have used to help me make it with the intention of helping others making similarly informed decisions about their produced entertainment choices.
First off, I would like to make it clear that I am not anti-BBC. I believe that the BBC is fantastic institution that is the gold-standard envy of the world when it comes to broadcasting. Recent events may well have given the BBC a tremendous bloody nose, but I do not fundamentally believe that the BBC does not deserve the respect that it commands.
Twenty years ago you obtained your produced entertainment from a relatively small number of sources: radio, a small number of terrestrial television channels, cinema, theatre and the printed press. These days its very different, the proliferation of the Internet having changed everything in ways that were unimaginable two decades ago. Now you can choose how you consume produced entertainment, and most importantly, the laws regarding your consumption vary according to the method in which you choose to consume it. Television programmes are not just available via scheduled broadcasts as they once were; they are now also available on-demand on the Internet accessible through commonplace domestic Internet connections and viewable on a range of domestic equipment including computers, televisions and games consoles.
The point is that these days you do not have to watch or record televisions programmes while they are being broadcast in order to enjoy them. This is revolutionary for many people who have limited time to watch television and so perhaps cannot commit to being in front of their television sets at pre-determined times. People can’t and don’t plan their lives around The Radio Times any more.
Why do you need a licence?
You need a television licence if you use a television, video recorder or digital recorder to view or record (i.e. receive) television broadcasts from any broadcaster in the United Kingdom. That’s it. You do not need a licence for any other reason, including:
- Radio, analogue and digital.
- Watching DVDs, Blurays or other formats of physical video media.
- On-demand TV services from any provider, including BBC’s iPlayer.
The third item is critical. Why aren’t such services covered if, especially in the case of BBC’s iPlayer, the content has still been produced and made available using funds from the TV licence? The answer is simple. When you view content through such services it is not a broadcast, it is a unicast, and therefore not covered by the legislation applicable to television broadcasts. The BBC even admit this fact themselves, stating clearly:
You do not need a television licence to catch-up on television programmes in BBC iPlayer, only when you watch or record at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is being broadcast or otherwise distributed to the public. In BBC iPlayer, this is through the Watch Live simulcast option.
Anyone in the UK watching or recording television as it’s being broadcast or simulcast on any device – including mobiles, laptops and PCs – must, by law, be covered by a valid TV licence.
A ‘live’ TV programme is a programme, which is watched or recorded at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is being broadcast or otherwise distributed to members of the public. As a general rule, if a person is watching a programme on a computer or other device at the same time as it is being shown on TV then the programme is ‘live’. This is sometimes known as simulcasting.
If you are using the live rewind function to either restart the current live programme or to rewind any live stream for up to 2 hours, a television license is required as you are still accessing the live simulcasts.
This is backed-up by the TV Licensing website, which also answers the question about whether or not you can use a DVD/Bluray player without a licence. It states:
The law states that you need to be covered by a TV Licence if you watch or record television programmes, on any device, as they’re being shown on TV. This includes TVs, computers, mobile phones, games consoles, digital boxes and Blu-ray/DVD/VHS recorders.
You don’t need a licence if you don’t use any of these devices to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV – for example, if you use your TV only to watch DVDs or play video games, or you only watch ‘catch up’ services like BBC iPlayer or 4oD.
The second sentence of the first paragraph only applies to DVD, Bluray and VHS recorders, i.e. if your DVD or Bluray player is capable of recording and you use it to record broadcasted television programmes. Just because it is capable of doing so it does not mean that you must purchase a television licence, in the same way if that if you don’t use your television to receive broadcasts you also do not need to purchase a television licence, even though your television is capable of receiving them.
At this point the decision whether or not to purchase a television licence becomes a normal consumer choice. It is not mandatory to buy a licence and one is only required to do so if one chooses to watch television as it is being broadcasted. There is no other reason.
I paid £145.50 for my last television licence. I have estimated that my lifestyle permits me to watch perhaps one, maybe two broadcasted television programmes per week. I estimate that 90% of my television consumption is through on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, with the other 10% made up of a combination of broadcasted television and trips to the cinema. For me £145.50 per year, or £12.25 per month, represents an average cost of £1.42 per broadcasted television programme viewed, assuming two programmes per week. I do not consider this to be good value and I have concluded that I can easily live without this source of entertainment.
The same consumer rights and laws apply to me regarding this decision as they would with any other consumer decision. I go to the gym five times per week, but if, like many people, I paid for a gym subscription but only went once or twice a month (at best), I would probably consider cancelling it. It is not compulsory to have a gym subscription. If you don’t use it, don’t pay for it. A more relatable example may well by a Sky television subscription. Would you pay a monthly subscription for Sky channels if you never had time to watch them? It isn’t compulsory to have a Sky subscription, so if you don’t need one, don’t have one.
The point is that I do not need to be able to watch broadcasted television. I do not have to watch it, it is not mandatory to do so, and the law states that if I do not do so then I do not need to purchase a TV licence.
So on 30th November 2012 I will be disconnecting the aerial cables on both my televisions and I will switch entirely to on-demand services to watch television, which both my television sets are capable of receiving themselves without the need to connect a computer. The only disadvantage of this is that I will have to wait up to two hours longer than everyone else to watch a programme. I believe I can live with that.
The TV Licensing Gestapo will get you!
No, they will not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully expecting a barrage of nasty threatening letters from them. But sending nasty, threatening letters is the absolute limit of their powers unless they can prove to a judge beyond any reasonable doubt that I am watching broadcasted television without a licence. There is absolutely no way they will be able to prove that I am, chiefly because I won’t be. The burden of proof is upon them, rather than the burden of disproof upon me.
TV Licensing will threaten to send an inspector to my home. They may actually do so. In contrast to TV detector vans, TV Licensing inspectors do actually exist. The problem for TV Licensing is that their inspectors have no more right to enter a private home than someone selling dusters door-to-door. They require a warrant to enter and search private premises. The BBC states that a search warrant would never be applied for solely on the basis of non-cooperation with TV Licensing and that in the event of being denied access to unlicensed property will use “detection equipment” rather than a search warrant. The BBC have also admitted that “TVL has not, to date [as of 01/04/2011], used detection evidence in Court”. This means that no judge has at any point issued TV Licensing with a search warrant.
In short, all I have to do is ignore the letters from TV Licensing, no matter how nasty they become. Others have done this successfully. They are all mouth and no trousers and for the most part they work; many less well informed people will capitulate to TV Licensing after several of such letters, having been convinced that owning a television licence is absolutely mandatory, akin to paying council tax or income tax, rather than an optional consumer choice.
What if everyone did this?
While I think it’s unlikely that “everyone” will do similar, I expect that a significant number will follow suit in the next few years. Television habits are changing drastically, and I think that more people will make the same consumer choice. It will reach a tipping point where it the BBC will simply not be able to function to the standard that everyone expects because of the combined reduction in TV licence revenues. At that point there will probably be a change in a law in order that a TV licence will become necessary to watch catch-up services from the BBC and Channel 4 (commercial providers may be different).
At that point I will have absolutely no problem paying the TV licence fee and will be happy to start doing so again. It will be excellent value for money.
Let me know how it works out for you
I will do. I’m not going to be one of those people who scans and publishes every nasty letter or evangelise about not having a TV licence on this blog or on social media. People like that irritate me. As I have said, this is a consumer choice. I wouldn’t bang on about cancelling my gym subscription endlessly. If anything significantly interesting happens as a result of this decision I will follow-up this post.