The BBC is mulling introducing pay-per-view fees for recent broadcasts and access to its archive via iPlayer, according to trade mag Broadcast. The corporation is keen to plug what it sees as a funding loophole. The majority of the BBC's income comes from a compulsory tax on viewing live TV via a TV set in the UK. But an increasing number of viewers don't have a TV set, and if they watch any BBC output, they watch it time-shifted and on-demand.
Yet the idea of a compulsory fee is something that even BBC supporters aren't comfortable with. "The idea of a tax on the ownership of a television belongs to the 1950s," said Jeremy Paxman. "Why not tax people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil?'
A BBC spokesperson said plans were still being modelled. According to Broadcast, a "small fee" would be charged for archive access, and isn't intended to make profit. At which point you might ask, why not?
The debate over funding and access is actually much more nuanced, and complex, than some people would prefer.
The corporation risks a firestorm of protests, and accusations of charging twice for the same material. Licence fee payers will already have paid for the material once, and the licensee fee is a regressive tax, one that penalises the poor. By one estimate, 10 per cent of magistrates courts cases are non-payment of the state media company. Erecting another paywall around the material strikes some as unfair.
Yet there's a positive way of looking at it. Pay-as-you-go brings the prospect of significant new incremental income for the BBC, income which unlike the license fee, is offered voluntarily through choice, and is a reflection of genuine consumer demand, rather than a tax backed by the state's monopoly on violence. If 'fairness' is a concern, then much more of the BBC's output should be 'pay per view', and not just the archives.
A shift to pay-as-you-go would allow the BBC to lessen its reliance on the licence fee, lower the annual charge, and spike complaints about unfairness. It would also allow it to take on global rivals on a more secure financial basis.
And the debate, while in its infancy, is stimulating some fascinating responses. Lifelong freetards who refuse to pay for media content vow to pay for iPlayer shows, because they value the BBC. While BBC supporters baulk at paying twice, and the absurdity of compulsory fees for media companies.
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