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BBC made millions after closing iPlayer licence fee 'loophole'

Mark Dorman
Closure of license fee ‘loophole’ nets BBC millions (Rex features)
Closure of license fee ‘loophole’ nets BBC millions (Rex features)

The BBC made at least £12 million after closing the ‘iPlayer loophole’, it has been revealed.

Since the move in September 2016, thousands more people have bought a licence.

The previous system meant viewers who claimed to only watch BBC content via the catch-up service did not need a TV licence.

And with changing viewing habits, an increasing number of people were not watching live BBC programmes on a television.

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The figure was revealed during a Commons select committee hearing. Chair Damian Collins asked how much “extra revenue has been brought in” since the iPlayer loophole was closed.

Anne Bulford, BBC deputy director general, told MPs the BBC “made at least £12m” .

She said it was the case that overall licence fee evasion was lower among older people, and the closure of the loophole had been very effective.

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In total, the BBC generated an additional £40m in the past year, she said, through better collection of the fee, household growth and less evasion.

“If you just look at the conversion of people coming into the iPlayer, getting a prompt, ‘you now need a licence’, that contributed about £12m,” she said.

“From our perspective, it’s a very important step.”

BBC Director General Lord Tony Hall raised the prospect of a subscription-style service for old BBC shows (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
BBC Director General Lord Tony Hall raised the prospect of a subscription-style service for old BBC shows (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Collins also questioned whether the BBC was “geared up to deliver” a product to younger audiences who increasingly watch content over their smartphones, tablets or computers when they want rather than sitting down in front of the traditional TV set.

Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, also appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, said: “I do worry about this, we all worry about this as a group.

“I’ve put this issue right at the top of what we do. But it’s not over for linear TV – BBC 1 is still the way you reach most young people.”

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He said shows like the Blue Planet II and Strictly Come Dancing pulled in huge audiences.

However, he said iPlayer was a key area of programme and technological development for the BBC.

Collins said there was some frustration among younger consumers that they could access a BBC show on demand through a subscription service like Netflix but not “order it up” from the BBC directly.

Hall raised the prospect of some kind of subscription service or channel in the future to access the back catalogue of BBC programme content.