UK Conservative government considers scrapping TV license fee for optional Netflix-style subscription


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US subscription-based streaming and production giant Netflix has undoubtedly proved to be a massive success in the digital age – but would its business model translate successfully to a public broadcaster like UK's BBC?

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, and Media Nicky Morgan, whose office is in charge of the BBC, seems to think so.

Morgan made some comments to this effect during a parliamentary committee hearing.

The BBC is currently mostly funded through the television license fee, which costs just under $200 per year per household. But it's more than a TV license fee – it's a criminal offense in the UK to avoid paying it, as it has the status of a tax.

In her remarks before the committee, Morgan noted that it was unclear at this time what effect a subscription model would have on BBC's revenues – either by increasing or decreasing them.

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But more than money's at stake here, because if the license fee is replaced by a Netflix-style subscription, it would mean people having to opt in to watch programs on BBC channels and listen to its radio stations.

And whether opting-in is a good or bad thing would appear to depend on politics. Conservatives are the ones in favor of abolishing the license fee.

Although Morgan, a Conservative herself, said during the hearing that she was open-minded about introducing the idea into the party's election campaign, unnamed sources in her office later said this was “not a priority” – and that the government intends to see through the current funding model for the BBC, that remains in force until 2027.

It's also been mentioned that the idea to scrap the license fee has the support of the more conservative Institute for Economic Affairs, whose report published earlier this month argued that a subscription model would free the public broadcaster of government's vested interests and consequently, its undue influence.

Another argument the think-tank makes is in favor of providing a level playing field for competition by removing BBC's legal privileges and urges the authorities to diversify sources of public broadcasting and adapt to modern technology and society.

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Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovich is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovich is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]