Skip to main content

BBC’s next-generation iPlayer raises questions of license fee income

The BBC is planning a range of content and service innovations around the next generation of its iPlayer online service, scheduled for launch in 2014. But by allowing users to personalize the iPlayer and zoom in on just those parts of the BBC’s schedule they like free of charge, it has renewed debate over whether UK households should continue to be charged an annual license fee, currently about $230, to fund the corporation’s total programming output.

The BBC has stated the next-generation iPlayer will bring an extended viewing window of 30 days rather than the current seven, the ability to pause and resume on separate devices, as well as a playlister allowing people to save their favorite tracks. Making the announcement, BBC Director General Tony Hall also confirmed launch of a time-delayed version of BBC One, as well as plans to test pop-up channels based around specific sporting events or music festivals, as well as dedicated online channels. The latter will include a TV version of the Radio 1 popular music program, along with dedicated arts and science channels.

“The new generation of BBC iPlayer is set to transform our relationship with audiences,” Hall said. “In the coming years, for many people BBC iPlayer is going to be the front door to our programming, and the experience they have is going to be a world away from that of a traditional ‘one to many’ broadcaster.”

There is speculation that this changing relationship will undermine the current license fee model that underpins the BBC similarly to public service broadcasters in many other European countries. In the Guardian newspaper, Steve Hewlett, Professor of Journalism and Broadcast policy at the University of Salford, wrote: "One question that must surely arise in the unbundled 'My BBC' world is, once I've picked out the bits of the BBC I use and value, why should I pay for the rest?

"And because the technology of on-demand delivery that underpins the whole project allows subscription in a way that broadcast TV and radio don't — at least not easily — 'My BBC' will inevitably in time reignite the question of subscription funding, for some BBC services at least."

Meanwhile, though, iPlayer users are looking forward to the new features such as pause and resume, which means they can continue watching a program say on their iPads while travelling that they started on a smart TV at home.