As the ongoing debate about the TV Licence fee continues, Clare Sumner, Director of Policy at the BBC, says that the fee helps guarantee universal access to the BBC’s programmes – and that when asked, most people say they prefer the licence fee model, and as opposed to the advertising and subscription models.
Sumner, who leads the development of UK and EU public policy for the BBC, spoke yesterday about the future of the public broadcaster in front of the Westminster Media Forum.
“We are the biggest media provider in the UK, highly trusted and consumed by over 90 percent of adults and 80 percent of young people every week”, she said. “The BBC’s next key milestone is how we approach the licence fee settlement with the Government for April 2022.
“The licence fee is not an end in itself. It exists because it’s a sure-fire way to guarantee universal access to the BBC’s programmes and services – to make sure they’re available to everyone.
“It makes us directly accountable to the whole country. Because all audiences pay for us, we have to work hard to make sure all audiences get value from us in return.”
The TV Licence fee, which is used to fund the BBC, currently stands at £157.50/year, but will go up to £159/year on April 1. Anyone who watches the BBC live, or streams it via BBC iPlayer, has to pay the fee.
Furthermore, if you watch any live TV from any broadcaster (even an international one), you also need to pay the fee (See our full guide on whether you need to pay the TV Licence fee or not).
Last year, the government was debating whether to change the terms of the licence fee, and specifically whether to decriminalise it or not.
Eventually, the government decided to leave the current criminal sanctions on evading the licence fee where they are, at least until 2022, with evaders risking a £1,000 fine or, in rare cases, even going to jail.
Another question that keeps coming up, is whether the TV Licence fee should be mandatory – or optional, with the BBC turning into a subscription service. (It’s worth emphasizing that the licence fee is already optional – but failing to pay means you can’t watch ANY live broadcasting, not just the BBC).
A report published recently by the BBC, indicated that if one was to purchase the range of media offered through the licence fee, across video, audio and news offered by the BBC, it would cost £453.45 per year.
In her speech, Clare Sumner addressed these numbers again:
“Each hour of BBC TV watched by a household costs it around 9p on average. For an equivalent SVOD service that’s around 15p, and for an equivalent pay TV service it starts at well over 50p per hour.
“And let’s not forget that the licence fee is not only well supported by those in the industry, it’s also widely backed by the public.
“When we ask people how they wish the BBC to be funded, the licence fee is the most popular answer compared to advertising and subscription models.”
It’s worth noting that at £13/month, the TV Licence fee is still higher than the cost of competing TV services, such as Netflix (£9.99/month for the standard plan) or Disney+ (£7.99/month). But those services only provide TV, while the BBC also has the radio stations and news service under its belt.
In her speech, Sumner also addressed the BBC’s role as a market-shaper, “by providing access to distinctive content that informs, educates, and entertains.
“Take entertainment or drama shows, for example. By creating massively successful global formats like Strictly, and by championing diverse talent with content such as I May Destroy You, we shape and influence markets around the world.”
Tim Davie, the current BBC director-general, also spoke in the past against turning the BBC into a subscription-based service, saying that while they might make “a decent business out of it”, it would make the BBC “just another media company serving a specific group”, instead of serving wider groups of the population.
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