TV Licence Experiment: Life Without BBC Too Hard For Most

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A “deprivation study” conducted by the BBC, barred 80 households from using the BBC in any way over nine days: they had no access to the BBC’s channels, iPlayer, radio or even the websites and the weather app.

The goal of the study was to find out whether people who are mostly against the TV licence fee in its current form, would change their minds once the BBC was removed from their daily lives.

Despite the ongoing discussions on possibly replacing the licence fee model, the results would surprise some: 70% of those who initially said they would rather do without the BBC, or would prefer to pay less for it, ended up changing their minds.

After the experiment, they became willing to pay the full licence fee, or even more, in order to keep BBC content and services

TV licence documents

The TV licence fee is used to fund the BBC, and currently stands at £159/year. It was originally due to rise this year, but was then frozen for two years.

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, you also need to pay the fee (See our full guide on whether you need to pay the TV Licence fee or not).

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 for not paying those fines.

TV Licence infographic 2020

BBC Deprivation Study: The Results

The study was conducted by research company MTM on behalf of the BBC, between December 2020 and April 2021. 

Just under 200 people, based in 16 different locations in the UK and with a mix of views about the BBC, took part.

The views of the households who took part, before the study, were:

  • 30 Households who prefered to pay nothing and not receive the BBC 
  • 30 Households who prefered to only pay less than the full licence fee for the BBC
  • 20 Households who were willing to pay the full licence fee or more

During the study, participants were unable to access any BBC services, across TV, radio, online and apps, for nine days, covering two full weekends.

BBC iPlayer loading on TV

They were also not permitted to watch any BBC content available on other services such as Netflix or YouTube. In return, they received the cost of the licence fee for those days, which works out at about £3.90.

When the study was over, 42 out of the 60 households that initially said they would prefer to pay nothing and not receive the BBC or would only pay less than the full licence fee, became willing to pay the full licence fee or more. 

19 out of the 20 households that initially said they would pay the full licence fee or more were still willing to pay the full level or more, with 14 even more positive than previously. One household instead decided it would rather pay less.

This means that over two-thirds of the households that had initially said they would pay nothing or would only pay less than the full licence fee, changed their minds and became willing to pay the full licence fee or more in order to keep BBC content and services.

The same proportion of these households – 70% – changed their minds in the research in 2020/21 as had done in a similar research conducted back in 2014/15 (69%, 33 out of 48 households), despite the greater range of TV and streaming alternatives available now.

What Did The Participants Say About The TV Licence?

One person who was initially against paying the TV licence fee, said (before the study) – “I’d prefer if there wasn’t a licence fee at all – it’s outdated… you just don’t get value for money from it anymore.”

After nine days without any access to the BBC’s services, he had this to say: “I was surprised how much I rely on the BBC… It’s definitely changed the way I see the value of the licence fee… and what it offers me. It’s worth paying… I don’t think I could feasibly live without the BBC.”

Watching BBC on tv

Among those who were initially against the licence fee, there was frustration at the obligatory nature of it in contrast to the flexibility offered by streaming subscription services.

The ‘pay less’ and ‘pay nothing’ households who felt they did not get as much personal value from the BBC, felt they would have preferred to opt-in and subscribe on-demand, rather than be ‘tied in’ (though in the past, the BBC said that a theoretical BBC subscription would cost £453/year).

But once the BBC was taken from the participating households, many said they missed the convenience and flexibility of BBC iPlayer for the
BBC TV content they enjoyed, missed the must-watch dramas, and the ‘event’ TV and live sport on the BBC that brings the nation together.

Line of Duty series 6 official
Line of Duty (Photo: BBC)

18 of the 60 ‘pay nothing’ / ‘pay less’ households did not change their minds (though four of these pay nothing households became pay less).

“I didn’t miss it at all…”, said one of them. “BBC is not part of my normal routine, so it didn’t affect it… I don’t use any of their services at all.”

“When put in perspective how much I pay for it”, said another, “realistically I’m paying £3 a week for EastEnders because everything else can be easily substituted… that’s a lot for one programme!”

BBC Director-General, Tim Davie, had this to say about the results of the study:

“It is great to see the role the BBC plays in people’s lives up and down the UK and it not only shows the importance of public service broadcasting it reinforces that we must continue the hard work to maintain that support and ensure we offer something for everyone.”

In 2014, when the first study was started, 21.5 million adults used the internet/social media for news. That compares to 39.2 million today, while 4.8 million UK households had access to SVOD services, compared to 20 million today.

man watchin streaming tv on tablet

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