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BBC closes iPlayer 'loophole' with changes to TV licence

Wednesday, August 31st 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

From tomorrow, it will be illegal to watch the BBC’s iPlayer without a TV licence.

Until now, viewers have been able to watch on demand content on the iPlayer without the need for a licence, as it only covered programmes watched at the time of broadcast.

This became known as the ‘iPlayer loophole’ as it allowed viewers to watch BBC shows legally without paying the £145.50 licence fee.

But from 1 September that won’t be the case, with anyone watching the service without a licence risking a £1,000 fine.

Ed Barton, a TV expert for analysis firm Ovum, is pleased the loophole has been closed.

He said the lines between live TV and services delivered over the internet (known as OTT) are being blurred.

“We’ve seen enormous growth in usage of iPlayer and it’s only fair that it is monetised through the licence fee,” he told Cable.co.uk.

Mr Barton said there is a “slight oddity” in that those without a licence will still be able to access the catch up services of other public service broadcasters (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) but said the BBC is different.

“The BBC is a special case because of the public service functions it performs, that’s why iPlayer has been brought into the fold,” he said.

“The seven-day catch up is massive. Things are converging and hopefully this will make it easier for the BBC to put the iPlayer front and centre.”

'Highly cherished'

Mr Barton said those calling for the licence fee to be scrapped altogether are engaging in a separate argument.

“If we are talking about whether we need a licence fee, we are talking about the need for Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) in general,” he said.

“That is pretty well established and the BBC’s role in public life is pretty highly cherished by the overwhelming majority of its audience.”

He said the BBC has started offering subscriptions on its worldwide service, but isn’t keen on the idea of the iPlayer charging a monthly fee and competing directly with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

“If you are going to have PSBs, they have to be accessible to the maximum number of people,” said Mr Barton. “If we start talking about paywalls and contracts, we get into commercial areas.

“What would be the point in creating a Netflix clone? You’ll only get destroyed by Netflix.”

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