The BBC needs a new road map. The knock at the door doesn’t make sense anymore.
Just one year after the second world war, the TV licence was introduced to cover the costs of an advertisement free channel, the BBC. This worked well, and at the time there seemed to be little alternative to asking people to pay, and hoping they would be honest.
Fast forward to 2017, and pretty much the same structure is in place for a service introduced 71 years ago. While the BBC have recently revised their rules regarding online streaming (sorry all those students who have gotten away with it for so long, ‘catch up’ now needs a licence), they are still light years behind other content providers, and are starting to look woefully inadequate when compared to ‘new media’ companies. The likes of Netflix, Now TV, and Amazon Prime TV, have embraced the ‘pay as you go’ or ‘subscription model’ and it is proving very popular with customers, who can pop in and out of a subscription month to month. The BBC on the other hand still pushes for a yearly fee (which, by the way works out to around £12 a month), and should you decide you don’t want to use the BBC services, well, that is when things become really fun!
Lets look at Netflix as an example. What happens when you realise you don’t watch Netflix as much as you had intended? Simple! Log on to your account, and cancel. Job done. Now let us examine the BBC’s way of dealing with a customer who wants to leave. Firstly you need to call up the BBC and tell them you don’t want to use their service anymore. You will then have to listen to a representative telling you that without the TV licence you are not allowed to watch live TV on a computer or normal television set, or phone, or toaster, or wi-fi enabled washing machine, or any other device capable of streaming their shows. Fine, they have to tell you all this, and we understand. So hopefully that will be the end of it, right? Well no. You have a TV in your house, and naturally the BBC doesn’t trust you enough to think you won’t flick over to BBC 1 when Eastenders or Blue Planet is on. In fact, having a TV in your house and NOT watching the BBC isn’t something the TV licensing people believe is likely to even happen. Because of this, you will receive a letter telling you exactly what you can’t do anymore, and what horrible things can happen to you if you decide to flaunt these rules. At some point in the months after, you are also likely to receive a visit from them, where they will ask to come in and have a right ol’ root around in your house, wandering through all your rooms and looking through your underwear draw in case your socks are watching the latest episode of Spring Watch. You may have this visit again in the coming months and years as well as multiple reminders in the post, reiterating their threat that you will be fined or incarcerated if you dare to cast your eyes over a live BBC stream. They also claim to have special ‘magic devices’ that can detect TV’s being in use, although they refuse to say how this technology actually works (tip of the hat to Donald Trump). On that note, does anyone really believe they can do this? In the 71 years since the licence was introduced, nobody has come out and explained how this works. That means no employee has ever revealed this little secret to their family or friends. None of them, over a pint in the pub on a Friday night, has ever let slip how these special TV licence vans actually catch anyone. These guys should work for the government, as their secrets seem to be flying around all over the place!
“Well, this is just the way the BBC do things…We have always had a licence fee, and how would they survive without the money?” Yes, this is a good point. Of course the BBC need money. So does Netflix. And Netflix gets their money. A lot of money. They also do it the correct way. They don’t just assume you are using Netflix, and send round a man to check that you aren’t a dirty rotten liar. I have no problem with the BBC charging for their service (and I like the fact they aren’t paid for by advertising), I just wish they did it in the right way. One reason they may be reluctant to, is that the £12 per month fee becomes apparent when you change to the Netflix model, and 12 sounds a lot more than 7. The BBC don’t want you weighing up their offerings for £12, against Netflix content for £7. They start to look a little expensive when you do. For roughly the price of the TV licence, you could also sign up to the Entertainment package on Now TV which includes the likes of Sky Atlantic where lots of the hot new shows premiere. Side by side, the BBC doesn’t look like a great deal.
Now, as much as I am making this all sound very simple for the BBC, I do understand they have certain logistical issues that other content providers simply don’t have to worry about. Millions of elderly people rely on the BBC for their entertainment, using over the air set-top boxes. Their was already a huge push back when the analogue signal was shut off, and many older people went without a working television set until a family member could come over and set up a digital box for them. The internet revolution may sound simple to the average millennial, but not so much for their parents. So if the BBC were to go purely internet based, there would be thousands, if not millions, of people who wouldn’t be able to watch their service. This of course wouldn’t be acceptable. Set top boxes without an internet connection will need to be supported for the foreseeable future, although I do anticipate all your entertainment coming through one pipe in twenty years time. Until then, Nan needs to get her Loose Women fix on her set-top box. Herein lies the problem. Netflix and such rely on an internet connection to authenticate a paying customer and deliver content, so how could the BBC replicate this given their particular constraints?
Firstly, I do believe the Netflix model is the way forward. This would also allow the BBC to stream world-wide, and increase their revenue exponentially. This in turn could lead to a reduction in the price for the average user, and still allow the Beeb to bring in more money than their current business model possibly can. But what about Nan, with her Freeview box and no internet connection? Well, this is where a minor revolution would be needed.
Cast your mind forward another ten years. Now imagine every single set top box contains a SIM card inside it. When you first load up a set top box, you are asked to enter a code. This code can be bought online, or from the local post office, supermarket, or petrol station. The code would look very similar to an Amazon or Itunes gift card. The code inside, is a ‘one time only’ affair, and as soon as you enter the code on your set top box, you now have access to the BBC channels. You could buy 1, 3, or 12 month cards, and when they run out, the channel goes blank and asks for another code. The code activation itself could be done using the SIM card, and a tiny amount of data. The BBC could strike deal with a mobile phone carrier, to allow these SIM cards to only transfer the tiny bits of data once a month, purely for activation purposes. The cost of this can be offset against the army of Licence enforcement officers that are currently knocking on doors and invading peoples private spaces. This could even end up costing a lot less to run for the BBC, not to mention bringing them into the modern world, while still managing to remain simple for older customers to understand.
This system allows for a larger customer base to be reached, cheaper enforcement costs, better choice for consumers (who can now opt in and out month by month), and less intrusive methods of collecting their dosh. Maybe some people think the system is fine as it is, but I’m not one of them. If you do think there is no need for this change, just imagine a guy from Netflix knocking on your door next month when you cancel your subscription. He’s still knocking….Now he wants to come in… Now he is checking your garden shed for computers. Now he’s in your cupboards…..Where is he going to look next?!?! Why is this man even here?!?
One last thing to consider is that under the current government ruling, watching ANY live channel means you have to pay for a TV licence. So if you watch only Channel 4, Channel 5, and ITV, you still have to hand over your cash. All of which (minus a tiny amount that goes to rolling out Broadband in rural areas) goes to the BBC. Yes, that’s correct, if you use a separate service,you still have to pay for the service that you DON’T use, simply because you own a device that they also happen to use as a delivery system. I look forward to Netflix employing the same tactics, and charging people for using their service, when they are only subscribed to SKY. “Sorry” they will say. “ You have a computer, right? Well then get your wallet out, because we use the internet too”.