Raymond Snoddy on Media: Neophile Beeb is risking licence fee
The BBC has been boasting about a record month for online listening.
Radio 4's Afternoon Play received more than a quarter of a million online listening requests and there were no less than 1.9m MP3 downloads. Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time put on an additional 38,000 downloads in December and there were more than 400,000 downloads of the Today programme's 8.10am interview.
Great stuff. Clever old BBC to show it can be so successful at enabling people to receive all those programmes on non-traditional listening devices.
But hold on a minute. Listening is one thing - how about television?
Even better. The entire Winter Olympics has been shown on broadband. BBC content on mobile phones? There is no doubt there will be lots of it before the year is over.
Before the trebles are passed around too enthusiastically at the Corporation, is anyone wondering just for a moment whether the BBC is actually preparing to dig a deeper and deeper hole for itself?
The ghost at this particular feast is the licence fee. The government has decreed that the universal licence fee should continue for at least another 10 years from the beginning of 2007. And for a flat-rate tax imposed on television viewers under the age of 75, it remains a remarkably uncontentious issue.
But what if the BBC is day by day undermining the very fee it depends on by encouraging people to enjoy its TV productions on everything from computers and iPods to mobile phones? Within five years, never mind 10, there will probably be an unimaginable number of ways to receive television.
The law is clear. The licence fee applies to television receivers, not just traditional TV sets. Ask BBC director-general Mark Thompson about this problem and he still shuffles a little uneasily before suggesting that the vast majority of homes have a licence anyway, so the more futuristic devices are already covered. And most of people's viewing will be still be on TV sets - a habit that could be underpinned by the arrival of HDTV.
That may perhaps be true now, but will it really still be the case in 2017?
It is just as likely that growing numbers of internet-literate people will simply download material from wherever they can get it onto a wide range of devices, which may or may not include anything resembling a TV set.
It will be really interesting when the first prosecution is mounted against someone for illicitly watching BBC News 24 on their mobile phone. Even if such prosecutions do actually stick - a moot point in itself - the real problem would be one of detection.
Will a new generation of detector vans be equipped to sniff out computers?
Will people be stopped in the street to see what they are viewing on their mobiles?
The obvious problem is that both computers and mobile phones have primary functions that have nothing to do with watching television. The mischievous will take delight in using them to avoid paying the licence fee. Hackers are already avoiding it and the ongoing campaign to ensure students pay their licence fee could gradually be undermined.
The BBC is not facing the collapse of the licence fee system anytime soon, but the prospect of increasing breaches could be financially damaging.
In contrast to the BBC, commercial broadcasters will be delighted if their programmes, naturally including the ads, are being transmitted in as many ways as possible.
Before the BBC gets totally carried away with its broadband television transmissions, it might perhaps give some thought to developing better methods of making sure that the people who watch them have paid their licence fees.
If would, after all, be more than a little ironic if the BBC's fetish with the latest technology were to end up undermining the £3bn a year on which it depends.
30 SECONDS ON... THE LICENCE FEE AND NEW MEDIA
- The TV Licensing Authority (TVLA) last month warned that anyone watching television shows on devices such as mobile phones or PCs can be fined £1000 if they do not have an up-to-date TV licence.
- A 2004 update of laws from the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act to the 2003 Communications Act means that viewers do not require a licence if they only use devices to watch programmes that are not being broadcast 'as live', such as via video-on-demand services.
- The BBC intends to use part of this year's 4.2% licence-fee increase to fund new digital services, including making TV shows available via broadband for up to seven days after broadcast.
- Technology consultant Strategy Analytics predicts that there will be 50m mobile TV users by 2009, generating about £3.5bn in revenues.
This article was first published on Marketing
Latest jobs Jobs web feed
- Account Director- Exciting Online Content Marketing Company- Up to £70,000 plus OTE Cedar Scott Up to £70,000 basic (up to £90,000 OTE) plus share options, Central London
- Category Manager Pearson Competitive salary & performance related bonus & benefits, Central London
- Global Product Manager Evans Taylor c£50k - c£60k p.a. plus car, bonus and benefits, North East of England or Central London
- Retail Marketing Manager - Maternity Cover Tottenham Hotspur Football Club Up to £35,000 pro-rata, Tottenham and Enfield
- Brand Manager Radisson Blu Edwardian, London Competitive , South Kensington, London
- ACCOUNT DIRECTOR/SENIOR ACCOUNT DIRECTOR - BTL/SP/Brand Experience - London - £45 - £55k plus bonus Judi Patton £45K-55K plus bonus, London/Greater London
Integrated digital marketing offers huge opportunities to engage, servic...
Mobile marketing is coming of age, and the pace of change is now exponen...
With UK consumers spending an average of £1,083 a year online, int...
Conversational Mobile Marketing: Engage Customers and Empower Advocates (Expert Reports) External website
The pressure is on for marketers and mobile operators to embrace a strat...
As a nation, the UK is media and technology obsessed with over half of t...
All customers have the potential to become your brand advocates, driving...