Multi-tier licence being considered: cheap option for those who shun catch-up?



A multi-tier TV licence based on what viewers watch is one of the options being floated as part of a possible change to the way the system works.

First reported by The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, the proposals could see households who want access to the full set
of BBC services pay more than those who only watch a sub-set of services.

The BBC already requires users of the iPlayer and the BBC Sounds app to register. This could be developed into a system that allows viewers to pay the full fee if they wanted full access to the BBC's channels, apps and website, with "cheaper licences for people who did not use every service."

Viewers who didn't pay for access via the web or apps would be cut off, as is currently the case with users of other streaming services.

Any decision to make changes would come under the remit of the next Culture Secretary, due to be appointed imminently, following a DCMS consultation currently taking place.


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Dan Sutton

The piece in The Daily Telegraph goes on to say
"The switch to digital television means the BBC could restrict access to its services in the same way that viewers already require a password to access Netflix and other subscription services."

This suggests a deficit in knowledge of how linear channels are currently broadcast in the UK.  The UK switched to digital television around a decade ago. The receiving equipment used to receive Freeview and Freesat does not support this option - signals would have to be scrambled to restrict access, the last provider of such services on the terrestrial platform used by Freeview ceased in 2015, the infrastructure to facilitate this would be expense to reintroduce. An alternative, PIN protected solution used by shortlived services such as Xtraview via Freeview was easy to crack.

Sky and Virgin Media could work along these lines, but it would require the integration of licence fee payer information with Sky and Virgin's viewing card system.  It would be possible to restrict access to linear TV in such a manner on mobile, tablets and PCs, given the iPlayer is used as the gateway to BBC linear TV on such devices. As new technologies such as 5G Broadcasting develop, it should become easier to implement more widely.

However, despite the current restrictions covering Freeview and Freesat, it would still be possible to offer a multi-tier service based on basic access to linear TV channels and an 'advanced access' model, including iPlayer and/or BBC Sounds.  It's also possible to envisage developments that see the BBC Red Button video service that carries extra coverage of events such as Wimbledon and Glastonbury to be replaced entirely by an iPlayer based service (it's already starting to happen), which would act as an enticement to the 'advanced access' tier. 

It's less clear how radio would be restricted beyond catch-up and podcasts, but the addition of pop-up stations or migration of current digital stations to a BBC Sounds only environment would allow a more attractive incentive to subscribe to 'advanced access'. Additionally, with the BBC due to add BBC Sounds to a number of connected TV platforms, moving existing radio stations from broadcast over TV platforms to access via a paywalled Sounds App is possible, should this proposal be developed by Government. That would mean households that don't have a traditional radio and who only use smart speakers, mobile apps or the TV to access radio would have to pay more or switch back to FM and DAB.