Do I Need A TV Licence To Watch Twitch And YouTube Live?

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The TV and broadcasting worlds have changed considerably in recent years. Many of us sit for hours to watch live broadcasts on Twitch, as well as on YouTube and other live video platforms, so the question arises – do you need a TV licence for those live online broadcasts?

The question has been roaming the internet for years, and the answer isn’t as clear cut as one might think. So much so, that if you dig through social media and online forums, conflicting answers have sometimes been given – even by official representatives.

Following questions from our readers, I decided to dig in a little deeper, and get an official answer from the BBC and the TV Licensing body.

So, do you need a TV licence for Twitch or YouTube Live? the short answer is No. But the full answer is a bit more complicated – as it depends on exactly what you’re watching on those platforms.

TV licence documents

Who Needs To Pay The UK TV Licence?

We have a long article on TV licensing in the UK, and on how to pay it. But to recap:

The TV Licence fee is used to fund the BBC, and currently stands at £159/year. Anyone who watches the BBC live, or via BBC iPlayer (on a TV or any other device), has to pay it.

In addition, if you watch any type of live TV from any TV broadcaster (even an international one, while you’re in the UK), you also need to pay the fee.

As things are now, failure to pay the TV licence fee is a criminal offence, and evaders can end up paying a fine of up to £1,000 or even get sent to jail by the courts, if they don’t pay the fine (but there are ongoing discussions on decriminalising the TV Licence).

debt collector bailiff tv licence fee 1200

However, if you only watch streaming TV like Disney+ and Netflix, and you never watch anything live (even on Netflix), then you don’t need a TV licence – but you should inform the licensing body of that, otherwise they may keep sending you notices or inspectors.

What About Twitch And Other Live Streamers?

This is where things get complicated. When TV Licence laws were first set, BBC iPlayer and streaming TV in general didn’t exist.

So for a time, there was a loophole where people who watched the BBC online via BBC iPlayer, did not need a TV licence – but that loophole was fixed in 2016.

Twitch app on TV
Photo: Deposit Photos / Dennizn

But what about services like Twitch, where individuals (or companies) broadcast themselves live to the world? This is true for a number of services:

  • Twitch
  • YouTube Live (as opposed to on-demand, recorded content on YouTube)
  • Facebook Live
  • Instagram Live
  • TikTok Live

And the list goes on and on. A reader even sent us a question regarding live video streams of Church services – do you need a TV licence to watch those live?

The official TV Licensing website says, regarding YouTube, that “any programme which is part of a TV channel, broadcast or transmitted for everyone to watch at the same time” needs a TV licence. 

Furthermore, “Online-only TV channels still count as live TV, so you need a TV Licence if you’re watching or recording their programmes.”

With the wording being a bit vague, it’s no wonder some think Twitch and other live streams from individuals do need a TV Licence.

We took this question to the BBC, where a spokesperson told us that – No, the Twitch scenario (and the live Church broadcast) would not require a TV Licence.

But then, how does one tell the difference between a live broadcast (on Twitch or even TikTok, for example) that DOESN’T need a TV licence, and a live broadcast (live news coverage from Sky News on YouTube, for example) that DOES need a TV Licence?

In the past, the official answer was that anything that is ALSO available on a linear broadcast channel (on TV) – would require a licence if you’re watching it live on a different medium.

But, again, with many TV “channels” now only existing on online platforms – that answer is no longer relevant.

YouTube on TV
Photo: Deposit Photos / Andrew Lozovyi

So I queried the BBC further, and was told that “For a service to require a licence to watch” [even if you’re watching it streamed online], “it must be a ‘television programme service'”.

The TV Licensing body would have to make that distinction, however. Some of the factors that would be taken into account when considering this are:

  • Whether a service has a regular schedule of programmes
  • How continuous a service is
  • Editorial control and consistency
  • The quality of production and editorial values.

Therefore, since most Twitch, You Tube Live and similar live streams don’t come from a body that resembles a “television programme service” – you would not need a TV licence for them.

24 thoughts on “Do I Need A TV Licence To Watch Twitch And YouTube Live?”

  1. I still don’t understand why should I pay them? What exact service they’re providing if I’m watching something live but not in their platform?!

    Reply
  2. I think TV licensing are using devious tactics and vague wording. I keep getting letters saying I need a license to ‘watch or stream live content through services like Amazon Prime Video or YouTube’ – which many people would just cave in and pay for.

    But if I pay a private company for their service (like YouTube), then watch a small content creator publish a live video, the BBC should have no involvement whatsoever.

    They could easaily clairfy this, but they don’t.

    Imagine if Amazon started knocking on doors, demanding that every house in the nation must prove why they shouldn’t subscribe to Amazon Prime, or face a fine and prosecution. There would be riots. That’s essentially what the BBC are doing. Having a TV license should NOT be the default expected state. They are just a content publisher like all the rest, and consumers deserve a chance to decide for themselves whether to subscribe to that content.

    Reply
  3. Its like a franchise a buiness provided a product that customers and/or advertising pays for, those franchise buisness pay the original company to use their platform to work under, in this case the BBC francise the platform that includes use of broadcasting grid and inferstuctue to likes of ITV, SKY and many more, who all have to pay a fee to use the platform to broadcast their franchise platform, so they require a advertising funding plan to cover cost of paying for franchise and to make their profits, the BBC dont need to as they have a franchise platform to sell to others to make money from their platform and customers to sell their product too, and as owners of that product others like ITV cant sell use of the BBCs platform to their uses as they cant sell something to the user that they have already paying for, So BBC have their income and franchises are able to profit from that platform… To not pay and just watch other channels would mean that likes of ITV and others would not have a platform to franchise from to make others channels to broadcaste on that inferstuctue

    Reply
  4. Thats the way they worded the law….not much we can do about it unless we stop watching live TV.

    We should consider ourselves lucky. In Italy there were so many TV licence evaders (state TV RAI) they slapped surcharges on everyone’s electricity bill!

    Still waiting for an answer about Live streamed programs from major TV channels. How much time has to lapse before it is no longer considered live?

    I wrote to the TV Licencing authorities 3 months ago about this….no reply.

    Reply
  5. At what point does a Live You Tube broadcast no longer become live?
    If I watch continuous live YT stream, say a News Channel, which broadcasts 24/7, and ‘rewind’ to 30 minutes earlier, do I still need a TV Licence?

    Reply
    • Good question. Also if I watch someones youtube livestream does that require a licence? I watch emily d Baker live on YouTube when she is covering trials. Does that warrant a tv licence? I would have thought not as she is not on TV but an individual commenter online only channel. It seems muddy.

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      • I gather that is allowed. Only mainstream TV channels that have YT feeds require a licence.

        I have written to the TV Licence people about my query. So far no reply.

        Reply
        • There should be a very precise list somewhere of exactly which channels are classed as mainstream TV and require a TV licence so we know what live twitch streams we are able to watch. Its threatening behavior not to provide this and continue to be vague to bully people who do not need a license to buy one.

          Reply
          • I think the definition of ‘Mainstream’ is if the channel broadcasts on the main TV network. For instance, GB News has a YouTube Channel, but also can be found on the Main TV Network, so technically, you need a licence to watch it on YouTube. On the other hand, I dont know any Twitch channels that are featured on the main TV Network, so these can be watched without a licence.
            My question is if you watch GB News on a time delay…..say 30mins after its been broadcast….is it still considered live?

  6. It’s more nuanced than that. It’s like asking why you need to pay customs to DHL for example for a parcel sent internationally through their company. It’s because the state requires these businesses not only to tax end users for customs, but to receive the payment, process it and then pay the state body responsible for it as part of their own packages of taxes.

    Reply
  7. So… A few questions I have… Is Linus Media Group based in Canada a big enough organisation that I need a TV Licence to watch their content? And other YouTube creators who run under a structured business who do live broadcasts? I would even argue that the quality of the content is higher than some BBC and other UK board castors. I personally don’t think this should be an issue but then again they also broadcast on twitch. So would watching Linus Media Group contend on YouTube be problematic but not Twitch? and How do the rules relate to Floatplane if I need to pay for a TV Licence on YouTube? They both have login and both have the same content as YouTube from LMG, except Floatplane has more content and more live streams as I understand due the paid tiers.

    Reply
    • Really excellent point Luke.

      I watch Linus content too (though not sure i watch their live stuff).

      Live stuff normally drags on for hours, so i steer clear. Tech Deals is similar. Just too much waffle for too long.

      They are not some Friday night amateur have-a-laugh twitch stream. There again, some twitch content providers are pretty organised, provide structured, scheduled viewing etc.

      What about listening to a live stream on an internet radio station (or on youtube)? e.g. silk (now called monstercat silk)?

      You get a “live now” icon on youtube with these.

      It’s a playlist but i think fits the the definition of streamed for “…everyone to watch at the same time” (maybe watch vs listen though?)

      Reply
  8. I’ve asked this in a couple of places but I keep getting conflicting answers and TV Licence FAQs is too vague…

    Do you know if I need a TV Licence to watch live from the following channels on YT?

    -Newspapers (e.g. Guardian, The Sun, Daily Telegraph, SCMP, The Epoch Times, etc)

    -United Nations

    -Parliament UK (main PMQs) & 10 Downing Street

    My guess is that the newspapers when doing live are not simultaneously broadcasted on TV, unless they’re getting live footage from say Sky or BBC. I don’t know if UN and Parliament UK have live TV broadcasts, but since I believe politics should be freely accessible…I’m also guessing none required? (Although PMQs are simultaneously broadcast everywhere – TV and YT)

    Reply
  9. Ok, I’m going to ask the question that nobody seems to answer or explain anywhere on the internet, which is absolute madness!

    I understand that the rule essentially stipulates that I can’t watch almost anything live without a licence (even if it’s online only) unless it is essentially not from an organised broadcaster of nominal size and structure (or something to roughly these effects).

    The question I honestly cannot believe seems to never be asked or answered is…why?

    e.g. Why do I need to pay a TV licence, which essentially all goes to the BBC, to watch a CBS sports stream in the UK that I have paid for online and is not being televised on a terrestrial channel in the UK? I can only presume that the BBC has not remotely been involved in providing me this service in any way. Why on earth would I need to pay them any money if this is the only live TV I watch? It appears the only reason is because they say so and some muppet somewhere allowed this to be passed as law. How was this ruling ever allowed? If this is the only type of live TV you ever watch, the BBC have essentially legalized daylight robbery. What are you paying them for? What service of theirs are you using?

    Reply
    • All taxes are some sort of robbery if you look at that way. State needs money for some service whether it is school, health system or BBC they take from the citizens via taxes. You can think of it as a BBC tax. Even if you don’t use your local library for example you oay for it with your tax same way with telly tax.

      Reply
      • If that’s the case, why not make it mandatory regardless of whether you use it or not? I mean I hope that doesn’t happen but that at least makes more sense than making you get a TV license for a service not in any way funded by UK broadcasting. Either it should only be for stuff produced in the UK or it should be for everyone.

        Reply
        • Its basicly because the BBC own the patentsand rights to privalage of television broadcasting as were the first to sucessfully compose a broadcasting network that could be televised nationwide, so for others to use their working arial digital transmission network they are rewuired to pay, so like itv need to pay bbc to cover costs of the workforce and equipments/machinery ect to be keep the transmission network grid up and running, so like itv as its not their transmission network grid have to contribute to its maintenance and up keep so we can continue receiving coverage of bbc itv and all other broadcasting channels, hence why itv and others advertise to pay towards the transmition grid, and bbc not need to advertise as are king pin and own the grid as a buisness already generating their contrabution to its upkeep and maintenance with the product that it is as a buisness, others are platforms on their business structured grid

          Reply
    • The licence doesn’t entirely go to the BBC. It also goes towards funding for the TV and radio broadcasting infrastructure in the UK. It’s a tax that the BBC collect on behalf of government which goes into the pot with the rest of the taxes to be distributed

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      • Not true. The broadcasting infrastructure is privately owned and operated. All broadcasters pay their own fees to access it. A (relatively) tiny part of the licence goes to fund S4C. All the rest goes to the BBC.

        Reply
      • Which is paid for by my subscription to an ISP (Internet Service Provider, e.g. BT) & the online TV subscription service (e.g. Youtube TV).

        The BBC & british government literally have 0 cost, but demand payment for a service they do not provide AT ALL.

        Reply
    • I have the same question , its state sponsored TV and everyone has to pay it under the threat of going to court , being fined or jailed or both . In this day and age the BBC should be like any other subscription service whereby the public can decide to either watch their garbage or not .

      Reply
      • Thats the way they worded the law….not much we can do about it unless we stop watching live TV.

        We should consider ourselves lucky. In Italy there were so many TV licence evaders (state TV RAI) they slapped surcharges on everyone’s electricity bill!

        Still waiting for an answer about Live streamed programs from major TV channels. How much time has to lapse before it is no longer considered live?

        I wrote to the TV Licencing authorities 3 months ago about this….no reply.

        Reply

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