The BBC iPlayer service is far and away the most notable streaming platform in the UK region, but it appears as though an additional benefit to using it is technically keeping the broadcasters away from over £62m of additional yearly income.
A loophole to the terms and conditions of paying TV licences in the region (which are the BBC’s primary source of income) mean that instead of handing over £145.50 per year (per household) for the privilege of watching TV legally, a total of 428,359 people were able to fill in the ‘no licence fee needed’ claim on their return forms for the year 2012.
The twist in the rules permits viewers to do this provided that the content is never viewed ‘as it is being broadcast live’, meaning that the more savvy amongst the iPlayer audiences will wait until a show is over before watching it exclusively through catch-up TV on the iPlayer. The only other way to make a ‘no fee needed’ claim is by those who use their TV set exclusively for non-broadcast purposes (such as using the screen for DVD/video game purposes, or as a computer monitor), but it is widely believed that a majority of legal non-payers are using the ‘online instead’ reasoning for not handing over the annual sum.
Numbers obtained by The Times suggest that 425,590 signed under the category in 2011, meaning that over the course of the year 2,790 have taken what they see as the more beneficial option, with more and more broadcasters offering their content online (with commercial terrestrial broadcasters streaming ad-supported but free of charge).
The BBC had originally declined requests (supported by the Freedom of Information Act) to reveal the figures, making a point that the information be an encouragement to “those seeking to evade paying the licence fee”, but it appears as though they have relaxed their stance a little, as a spokesman for the broadcaster explained: “There are a number of reasons for notifying TV Licensing if no licence is needed. These include: if the address is unoccupied; if no TV receiving equipment is being used at the address; if a TV is used only to watch DVDs or for gaming purposes; or if only catch-up or on-demand services are used at the address.”
Speaking of a more general ‘fee-dodgers’, TV Licensing spokesman Stephen Farmer stated: “Some of the excuses [for not paying a licence] are simply hilarious whilst others show a great deal of imagination and creativity, but being caught without a valid TV licence is a criminal offence and no laughing matter. Joking and wacky excuses apart, it’s breaking the law to watch live television without a licence so anybody doing this risks prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.”
It is also noted, however, that the ‘catch-up only’ watchers amount to just 0.2% of the BBC iPlayer’s audience, although those that have worked around the system are soon going to be able to watch select programming even before those who ‘pay’ for it, with content such as new Peter Kay-led sitcom Car Share under a trial in which the iPlayer runs new episodes of certain series several days before their TV broadcast. Would this be considered a just reward for the cunning and general patience of the iPlayer-only minority, or would the majority of more ‘honest’ licence fee-payers feel a grudge at the loophole?