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BBC licence fee could extend to catch-up TV on iPlayer

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BBC iPlayer on TV

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The BBC licence fee may be extended to viewing via video on-demand and catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer, as part of a review being considered by the government.

Current TV licensing rules stipulate that a TV licence is required to watch television content "as it is being broadcast", whether that is on the TV set, online or via mobile platforms.

However, there is a grey area around whether people need a licence to access catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer, offering on-demand access to shows that have already aired.

Catch-up and on-demand platform iPlayer generated 32m requests from users for content every week in September, breaking down as 10m for radio and 22m for television.

The emerging strength of internet-enabled TVs is expected to intensify the usage, as iPlayer is already available on connected TV services from Samsung, Sony and others, while an 'optimised for TV' version launched on Sony's PS3 in August.

Nest year, the BBC-backed YouView is expected to go live, bringing VOD and web services to millions of homes as an upgrade to Freeview and Freesat.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is now considering making changes to the licence fee to reflect the emergence of new viewing technologies, reports The Guardian.

"Government is aware of developing technologies and the changing viewing habits of those who watch television programmes," said DCMS.

"How the BBC is funded as these issues evolve is a matter the department will need to address in the near future."

Ministers are currently evaluating a new communications bill to be enacted before the end of the current parliament. A green paper is expected to be published around Christmas.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said last year that the changing way people are watching TV, particularly online and on IPTV, could soon make the annual licence fee obsolete. But he also said that it is "not going to be possible to have a tax every time anyone buys a computer".

Last December, the BBC revealed that it had successfully prosecuted people watching television over the internet without a valid TV licence for the first time.

However, the corporation feels that wholesale changes to licence fee collection methods are not necessary, as its research shows that just 0.2% of households exclusively watch TV via catch-up.

A spokesman added: "We believe the current system works very efficiently and do not see a need to change its scope at present."

A radical report by free-market thinktank the Adam Smith Institute last year claimed that the growth in online viewing and video on-demand platforms has made a "licence" to broadcast obsolete.

The report said that the TV licence fee, which funds the BBC, should be scrapped and the corporation shifted to a voluntary subscription funding model.

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