UK considers license fee for connected TV

The growth of catch-up viewing often only minutes behind the scheduled broadcast has led the UK government to consider requiring a TV licence for non-linear viewing in the UK. Like most European countries, the UK charges an annual fee, in this case £145 ($230), for viewing content “as it is broadcast.” Such license fees are usually paid directly to a country’s public service broadcaster, the BBC in the UK. To date, the UK has excluded non-linear viewing, so that people without a TV watching content via the BBC’s iPlayer catch up service have not needed a licence. But now with the distinction between linear and non-linear viewing disappearing as catch up windows shrink, the government fears that licence fee revenue could be reduced as people claim they are only watching in non linear mode.

The situation in the UK has come to a head with the approaching launch in February 2012 of YouView, an online platform including a set top box to connect TVs directly to the Internet. Backed by the BBC, incumbent Telco BT, and UK digital terrestrial infrastructure company Arqiva among others, YouView will provide access to freeview channels via the Internet. This will lead to a number of viewers buying the box, and the platform will also be used to deliver paid IPTV services by BT as well as ISP TalkTalk. A change in legislation will be required to make a licence necessary to watch TV via YouView, at least in catch up mode.

Some European countries have already tackled this loophole. Germany, for example, has required a license for viewing TV over the Internet since 2007, but at the lower rate of 69 rather than 215 for the full licence. Countries that have not done so will have to address the catch-up issue soon.