BBC licence fee ‘in terminal decline because more will refuse to pay’

BBC Building in London – Ian West

Anita Singh

The BBC licence fee is in terminal decline because increasing numbers of people will refuse to pay it, the media minister has said.

There are currently 24.8 million licences in force, according to BBC figures, with that figure having stood at 25.8 million two years ago.

Moreover, around 260,000 over-75s contacted by TV Licensing have yet to arrange payment.

John Whittingdale, the minister for media and data, said he expected the downward trend to continue each year.

He told the Edinburgh TV Festival: “I think it inevitable that certain trends which are now clearly visible will continue. One is the switch away from linear viewing. The second is, in the longer term, the decline in willingness to pay the BBC’s licence fee.

“And those are going to put real challenges on all the UK public service broadcasters. So the debate about how to sustain public service broadcasting is only just beginning.”

Report says free over-75s TV licences should continue

The licence fee model is guaranteed until the end of the current Charter period in 2027, but the Government has made no secret of the fact it wants reform.

Mr Whittingdale also discussed the potential privatisation of Channel 4 in a debate with James Graham, the playwright whose television dramas have included Quiz for ITV and Brexit: An Uncivil War. Graham warned that privatisation could lead to the UK becoming “a cultural colony to America”.

The Government has argued that private ownership could bolster Channel 4 in the face of competition from US streaming giants.

But Graham said: “I despair a bit at the idea that we have to raise the white flag on public service broadcasting because of the arrival of these majority-American online streamers.

“I adore my Netflix and Apple and YouTube. The quality of writing on these streaming platforms is incredible. The problem is, and I know this from personal experience in meetings about creating ideas for content, that because [a streaming service] has a global perspective it needs a British drama to appeal to people in Germany and China and, particularly America.

“That is going to have an impact on the idiosyncratic British worlds which Channel 4 really enjoys finding, and doesn’t massively care if a view in Idaho is going to watch it or not. We don’t want to become a cultural colony to America, which I think we will increasingly become.”

Mr Whittingdale said: “We want to preserve Channel 4 going forward and we do think this model is going to be very difficult to sustain because of the power and amount of choice available from the streamers. It’s about trying to make sure Channel 4 can continue to thrive in what will be a very different landscape to anything with which we have been familiar.”

He said that any buyers would be told that they must preserve the Channel 4 remit. 


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