Sky’s streaming-based devices, Sky Glass and Sky Stream, are changing how we consume TV. But they’ve also brought along a tricky question: Do they always require a TV Licence?
If you’re frustrated with this ambiguity, you’re not alone. Luckily, we’ve delved into the details and have some answers.
Traditionally, it is crystal clear that if viewers record live TV on devices like Freeview recorders, a TV Licence is required. On the other hand, streaming catch-up content through apps such as ITVX and My5 does not necessitate a licence, except when using BBC iPlayer.
However, the lines get blurred with devices such as Sky Glass and Sky Stream (and to a lesser extent Virgin Media Stream). With these, users can add programmes from the live Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) to a Playlist, which complicates matters.
After adding a show to the Playlist, some programmes are then streamed as catch-up versions, while others are stored in Sky’s cloud as recordings of live shows, which are subsequently streamed.
This cloud recording and streaming mechanism leaves consumers in a quandary about whether a programme is considered a catch-up version or a cloud recording of live content – and then, whether it requires a TV Licence to watch or not.
To dispel these doubts, we reached out to the official TV Licence body for clarification on the necessity of a TV Licence in these specific instances – and the answer was somewhat surprising.
Sky Glass And Sky Stream
Sky Glass is a new type of 4K Smart TV introduced by Sky in 2021, which operates without a satellite dish (or a separate set-top box).
It relies on your broadband connection to stream TV content directly to the television, replacing Sky’s traditional methods of reception.
Alongside streaming live TV channels, Sky Glass can access on-demand content, various streaming services, and sports packages.
Another standout feature is the ‘Playlist,’ a system that holds all the content you’re interested in and delivers it to you on-demand or as a cloud recording, making it a transformative shift in how viewers engage with their television.
Sky Stream, on the other hand, is Sky’s standalone 4K streaming box, launched in October 2022. Like Sky Glass, it also relies on broadband rather than a satellite dish to deliver content.
However, it can be connected to any TV in your house and can work with any broadband provider. Sky Stream also utilizes the ‘Playlist’ feature to let users bookmark and stream content directly from a broad range of sources, including 3rd party streaming services.
How Does Recording Work On Sky Glass And Stream?
Unlike Sky Q or set-top Freeview Recorders, Sky Stream and Sky Glass don’t have a built-in hard drive for recordings.
Instead, you get limited “Cloud Recording” capabilities, with the device supposedly being able to record up to 1,000 hours “to the cloud”, and then stream them back to you on demand.
This feature is built around the Sky Glass / Stream Playlist – when you see a live or future programme in the TV guide, you can press “+” on the remote and mark it for recording. Sort of.
In practice, when you add a programme/film to Sky’s Playlist, one of THREE things may happen: in most cases, it will merely create a “shortcut” thumbnail that then takes you to the streaming version of that content, on Sky or 3rd party apps like BBC iPlayer or ITVX.
So, you mark the next Britain’s Got Talent episode on the TV guide, and when you come tomorrow to watch it, it won’t be recorded anywhere for you – instead, ITVX will open up, and the episode will be streamed from there (assuming that episode is still available on ITVX – which isn’t always the case).
Only in some cases – a select few Freeview channels and some sports, mainly – will the content actually get recorded to the cloud, for you to be able to watch again (as well as fast-forward or backwards, and save indefinitely).
Worse yet, for some channels – nothing will happen. Since there’s no deal in place between Sky and that channel – you won’t be able to record it to the cloud, AND it doesn’t have an app, so… you can only watch those particular channels live.
Now we get to the TV Licence part – with three different ways of watching content on Sky Glass and Sky Stream, you can understand why things are getting confusing.
TV Licence Fee – Who Needs To Pay?
The TV Licence fee, which is used to fund the BBC, currently stands at £159/year.
Anyone who watches the BBC live, or streams it via BBC iPlayer (live, on-demand, or downloaded), has to pay the fee.
Furthermore, any household watching or recording live television transmissions as they are being broadcast (terrestrial, satellite, cable, or internet) must hold a TV licence.
So, if you record a live show on a Freeview recording box – and that recording of the live show later – you need to pay the licence fee.
Individuals who only watch on-demand or catch-up TV – excluding those on BBC iPlayer – or those who only watch streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, NOW (previously NOW TV), Disney+, etc., are exempt from paying the TV Licence fee.
This exemption also includes those who only watch DVDs, Blu-rays, or videos.
- See our full guide on whether you need to pay the TV Licence fee
Failure to pay the TV licence fee is a criminal offence. If BBC inspection officers suspect you’re evading the fee (when you should be paying it), you could end up paying a fine of up to £1,000 or, in rare cases, even go to jail (if you end up in court – and then continue to refuse to pay the fee and the fines).
Sky Stream / Glass And The TV Licence Fee
With traditional TV viewing, the requirement for a TV licence has been quite clear-cut: if you watch or record live TV, you need a TV licence. If you strictly use other on-demand services like My5 or ITVX (even if you watch catch-up content), a licence is not required.
However, the way Sky Glass and Sky Stream function muddies these waters, leading to a fair amount of confusion.
As a user, it’s sometimes impossible to know whether a programme on Sky’s Playlist falls into the catch-up category (which wouldn’t traditionally require a licence) or if it’s a cloud recording of live content (which would).
This ambiguity has led to questions over whether a TV licence is required in all instances of using Sky Glass and Sky Stream, regardless of how you’re viewing the content.
Therefore, we reached out to the TV Licensing body, to try and clarify the issue.
The response from a TV Licensing spokesperson was unambiguous:
“A TV Licence is needed whether or not programmes have been pulled from an EPG to stream later from a Playlist, or stored as a recording to be viewed later.”
In other words, irrespective of the nature of the programme’s stream – whether it is a catch-up version or a cloud recording of a live show – users of Sky Glass and Sky Stream are obligated to possess a TV Licence.
But is it as straightforward as that? Not quite. As we saw, when you add a live ITV show from the EPG to your Playlist, for example, and watch it later – it’ll open ITVX and stream it from ITVX’s catch-up section… which doesn’t require a TV Licence.
So while only TV Licensing can make the clear cut here, it sounds like:
1. If your Sky Glass / Sky Stream Playlist opens a 3rd party app to stream a catch-up version of a programme (so it’s not airing live right now) – it doesn’t require a TV Licence, as it’s the same as you opening up ITVX/Channel4/etc. to stream a library show (with BBC iPlayer excluded, of course, as everything on it requires a licence).
2. If your Sky Glass / Sky Stream Playlist plays something “natively” without opening a 3rd party app (which means it’s coming from Sky’s cloud recordings) – and that content was live on one of the channels (including Sky’s channels) at some point – then it DOES require a TV Licence.
What About Virgin Media’s Stream Box?
Virgin Media Stream is a bit different, in that it doesn’t directly record anything to the “cloud”.
However, there’s a Watchlist – and Virgin Media does have its own streaming catch-up servers that play recorded content without opening 3rd party apps like ITVX.
Therefore, I would speculate the same rules apply – if you’re watching anything that aired live at some point – and it’s coming from Virgin Media’s catchup section (and not from the broadcaster’s own apps) – then it does require a TV Licence, as it’s similar to a recording.
Still confused? You’re right to be. With these kinds of devices representing new types of platforms, it’ll probably take some time for lawmakers to catch-up, and make things a bit more straightforward.
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