U.K. to drop BBC licence fee in favor of alternative funding

Mike Wheatley

The U.K. government has signaled that it will soon end its archaic practise of funding the BBC through a television licence.


Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said Monday the government’s forthcoming announcement regarding the cost of the annual licence fee would be the last.

The annual television licence fee is expected to be frozen in April at the current rate of £159 (that’s around £13.25 per month) until April 2024, before increasing slightly for the three years after that. The BBC’s Royal Charter, which guarantees the broadcaster’s editorial independence and outlines how it receives funding, will expire in 2027.

After that time, the BBC will have to work out a new funding model, it is being reported. And it looks likely that it will have to abandon the compulsory annual licence fee that’s imposed on all U.K. nationals with a television set.

Dorries indicated that much, saying “this licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors are over. Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”

Dorries’ description of licence enforcement is worded very emotively, but the truth is that hundreds of thousands of Brits are prosecuted and fined for not paying their TV licence each year. While you can’t be jailed for not paying the fee, imprisonment is a possibility for those convicted of non-payment of fines.

Among the options reportedly being considered to fund the BBC are a levy paid on every broadband connection in the U.K., direct government funding, the introduction of adverts on the BBC’s U.K. content, semi-privatisation and a subscription fee similar to Netflix.

However, it remains to be seen how the BBC could implement a paywall across its full range of media, which includes TV, radio, streaming, journalism and programming such as live sports, documentaries, drama and news. It’s incomparable to any other subscription media service.

One thing is clear though – the BBC can evolve. It was one of the trailblazers of modern vide streaming with the launch of its iPlayer on-demand platform way back in 2007, at a time when Netflix was still a DVD rental company. Indeed, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has previously cited the BBC as inspiration for his company’s model.

“iPlayer really blazed the trail,” he said in 2015. “That was long before Netflix and really got people used to this idea of on-demand viewing.”