But is it really time to scrap the £157.50 TV licence? - Liam Rudden
TV detector vans patrolling the streets, scanning for magnetic fields, while little men reportedly stuck their electronic wands through letterboxes in order to ascertain if a television was operating in your home without a licence - both tales I remember from my childhood.
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It all seems comical, if not ridiculous now but the TV licence has been back in the headlines recently with the threat of its scrapping being heralded as the way forward by many, while others jumped to its defence, championing it as ‘great value for money’.
It got me thinking, is there indeed still a place for a licence fee model that was introduced in 1946? Then, the licence covered a single, black and white channel and cost £2, about £85 in today’s money.
Looking at it from that perspective, today's £157.50 colour licence fee (or £53.50 for a black and white licence, which I have to admit I was surprised to find was still a thing), appears good value, giving access to, as a quick look at the TV Licensing website revealed, nine national TV channels plus regional TV services, 10 'pan-UK' radio stations, six national and 40 local, the BBC website, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sounds, the World Service and host of apps and online services.
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Or is it?
Probably, if you indulge fully in everything that’s on offer - I imagine very few do.
From that list I'll happily own up to the fact there was a time I’d have been lost with BBC Sounds, back when it was the Radio iPlayer, the portal to a host of informative podcasts and classic comedy. I’ve worked my way through most of them now and, sadly, eye catching new content is slow to surface.
Similarly, while the BBC iPlayer is invaluable for tracking down programmes my Virgin Box fails to record, it's not something I use regularly. Likewise, much BBC drama these days is a shadow of what it once was, both technically and creatively, so give me an overseas Netflix drama any day over BBC (and ITV, for that matter) drama that’s now so formulaic every twist is telegraphed in advance.
Then there's BBC News. It may not be as broad as it once was, although the fact that the right finds it too left-wing and the left finds it too right-wing probably means the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
So, whether the licence fee should be scrapped is a hard call, as a public broadcaster the BBC has a responsibility to be accessible to everyone but technology and the way we source our entertainment, sport and news has moved on... the days of gathering around the goggle-box once a week and then living with a cliff-hanger for seven days is long gone.
What is certain is that for a lot of people the annual licence no longer works. A lot see a subscription service as the way forward. I find myself agreeing with former BBC Chairman Michael Grade, a debate needs to be had now about the future of BBC funding, whether that continues to be a licence, a hybrid licence/subscription scheme or a streamlining of the BBC’s platforms and content in order to cut costs.
Either way, it's a discussion that’s going nowhere soon.