Has the rise of Netflix made the BBC licence fee impossible?

By July 10, 2015BBC, online video

As the Beeb faces scrutiny ahead of its Royal Charter renegotiation next year, its licence fee, might not have a place in our digital world.

There is little doubt we are in the golden age of TV. Never before have there been so many programmes of such high quality.They are available on every device, where and when you want to watch them.Francis and Claire Underwood and exceptional House of Cards led the way, driving up standards and at the same time, tossing way the old broadcasting models.Netflix, Amazon Prime and the raft of internet TV services, exploding onto the market, have revolutionising the entire industry.But while it means the consumer and viewer has never had it so good, what does this mean for the world’s most admired and respected broadcaster, the BBC?

Troubling times at the Beeb

These are very worrying times at New Broadcasting House, W1A.

Bosses are in the middle of the long and arduous process of renegotiating the BBC charter. It runs out at the end of next year, but in the meantime, they need to work out how it’s going to be paid for and by whom.

At the moment the licence fee doesn’t cover catch-up TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC radio, or use any of the BBC’s online services. This is clearly madness.

At the moment the licence fee, its main source of funding, costs £145.50 a year, per household. But you only pay if you watch or record live TV. Not if you watch catch-up TV, using the BBC iPlayer, listen to radio, or use any of the BBC’s online services.This is clearly madness.Technology has changed the way we all consume the BBC’s content, so why should the means of payment, rest on the now outmoded idea of watching live TV.

Navigating this digital madness

In reality all sides agree on this, but it hasn’t stopped the political atmosphere surrounding renewal, becoming incredibly febrile. This is after all, a debate about the very future of the organisation, one of the most loved institutions in the UK and around the world.

Barely a day goes by in the media pages, where there isn’t claim or counterclaim about the value of the BBC.

The director general, Tony Hall, creative director, Alan Yentob and respected presenters like Jonathan Dimbleby, are among those fighting the corner.

Even the BBC press office has begun standing up to its detractors.

In a world that has moved on we need a digital solution, not the analogue one, to the licence fee.

However the government appears to be taking a very different stance. It’s alleged the Prime Minister, in a slightly tongue in cheek moment, threatened to close down the BBC, during the election campaign. While the notoriously anti-auntie, John Whittingdale has been appointed Secretary of State for the DCMS. In the past he’s described the licence fee as “Worse than the poll tax” and unsustainable in the long termIt is clear much work needs to be done to come up with an alternative means of funding to the licence fee. The importance of the BBC is hard to overstate, try to imagine the media landscape without its independent voice.However in a world that has moved on we need a digital solution, not the analogue one. The current licence fee is not the answer for the future.

This article first appeared in the Memo in June 2015