BBC Pirate
The BBC Pirates
Avast ye scurvy dogs! Ye can watch any channel ye like, so long as ye pay us first.

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UK TV Licensing

Imagine. A guy goes into a shop and buys his favourite newspaper, however, he also has to buy the Guardian newspaper as it’s a legal requirement. Is it conceivable? Here in the UK this same concept applies to television; we can buy subscriptions to cable, Internet or satellite television so long as we pay the BBC first.

At a glance

  • anti-competitive, holding a dominant position and market manipulating
  • negative impact on low income families
  • no licence is a criminal offence and you are not considered innocent
  • conflicts of interest between commercial arm and BBC’s responsibility as a public service broadcaster
  • Commercial content intentionally blocked to everyone in the UK. For an example, try this link yet it is readily accessible through a proxy
  • television broadcasts can be received for free in parts of Ireland, northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands
  • heavy handed approach to enforcing the TV tax

Are you serious?

The BBC is primarily funded by a television licence. It’s multi-format content is aimed at both UK and global markets. A more accurate term might be “media licence” as it is not dependent on the ownership of a television. Any UK household which receives near live television broadcasts must obtain a licence, this includes for example, television over the Internet or on a mobile phone. Reception of television broadcasts without a licence is a criminal offence. Successful prosecutions result in a fine of up to £1000. Persistent offenders are sent to prison.

The price of a television licence is £145.50 per year. Unfortunately, this fee has a negative effect on low income families as they may not be able to subsequently afford additional broadcast services such as cable.

The cost of enforcement

Licence fee collection costs run at approximately 3.5%, with an estimated evasion rate of 5.2%. That’s £200M flushed down the pan every year.

Gratis to the world

Frequency allocation is disproportionately weighted in favour of the BBC, often leading to stronger signals than their commercial adversaries. Invariably, people in nearby countries such as Ireland, northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands are able to receive these broadcasts for free.

The other side

There are two arguments often cited in favour of the television licence:

  • Commercial independence allows for the production of more diverse, educative and innovative programming.

  • Higher quality and more accessible programming compared to commercial rivals. In addition, this higher quality programming challenges commercial channels to do better.

Generally, these arguments assume advertising is the only viable alternative. In practical terms, the BBC could be funded in a variety of ways including cooperatives, subscriptions, public access, underwriting and so on.

Get out, tune out

When it comes to media consumption, how important is your freedom of choice? In any other industry the television licence would be considered anti-competitive and a nuisance; holding a dominant position and market manipulating. It would be tempting to conclude it could be fought head on. Yet the path-of-least-resistance might be to simply switch off. Really, try it, break your routine. Here’s a challenge - list five things you and your family could be doing instead of watching television, here are some ideas - karaoke, dance, gym, swimming, skating, cycling, fishing, tennis, camping, kayaking, photography and the list goes on!

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Copyright © 2011 - 2016 Mark Ford