TV licensing for BBC television streaming

The Evening Standard yesterday made a big deal about a potential £1,000 fine for people who watch the World Cup at work. I laughed because the angle of the story made it seem like it is somehow everyone’s right to be able to watch football at work, but the more serious point is about how the TV licence applies to internet broadcasts.

It seems pretty obvious to me that if you receive a TV broadcast from the BBC then you should pay the licence fee, but internet streaming is not the same as television broadcast. This issue came up when I was trialling the BBC iMP player recently, and someone in a focus group I attended said he didn’t have a TV and his only access to TV programmes had been through those available after broadcast on a downloadable basis. He didn’t have a TV licence, and it wasn’t at all clear whether he’d need one or not. It’s a blurrry line, not least because the TV licence pays for BBC radio and BBC internet services, but is only paid by those with televisions. As a payment model, this is obviously something for the BBC to watch out for as more and more services become on demand. According to the TV Licensing authority

If you use a TV or any other device to receive or record TV programmes (for example, a VCR, set-top box, DVD recorder or PC with a broadcast card) – you need a TV Licence. You are required by law to have one.

This makes it appear that payment is based on reception of the broadcast (through a TV card for example), not the internet streaming. It could well be that a distinction could be made between a live broadcast streamed on the website, and a service that lets you watch again after the broadcast. It seems pretty arbitrary to me, though.