Not in the UK, anyway. There is a common misconception that you do though, to watch any form of television. Wrong, unless a BBC lover or cannot bear to miss live sport, then there is simply no need these days to have one. The viewing landscape has changed for the better, and it’s not an offence to watch endless hours of recorded streaming TV. To repeat, no licence whatsoever is required. Satellite? —might not need that either.
A connected revolution has already occurred but the BBC and other terrestrial channels, nor the government will blatantly point this out. What’s that old phrase, ‘there’s never anything good on the box’ —obsolete, totally obsolete. TV, is the best it’s ever been, with so much choice and top-quality shows (and films) than ever before. Except, most of this content isn’t live but pre-recorded, and only instantly available if you have an internet-streaming device and good broadband connection. You can still watch catch-up programmes that were previously shown live, as well. (As long, as they were not recorded live by any device and instead provided on-demand, pre-recorded by the broadcaster at a later time/date.)
To confirm, this is what you need a TV licence for:
- For personally watching any live (or recorded broadcast) television content in the UK on anything, where your home residence does not already have a licence, or the location in does not already hold a valid licence.
- When using BBC iPlayer television services.
To confirm, this is what you don’t need a TV licence for:
- For watching anything other than live television, live broadcast recordings and BBC iPlayer. (Pretty much everything else, and it beats live TV, almost all the time.)
Hang on, isn’t streaming on-demand content expensive?
No, generally better value. Here’s the maths>
TV licence required:
- The TV licence now costs around £12.50 a month. For that, you can watch live television (if there’s anything to watch). This at first glance looks to be the cheapest deal. However, this money goes only towards the BBC—all you’re paying for. So, it’s a bit unfair on the other terrestrial/traditional broadcasters when you must have a licence to watch their channels. iPlayer, radio and web content, are also produced by the BBC but I’ll mention more on those services later. The quality content of free-to-air live television has depreciated so much over the years that a high percentage (probably at least 85% plus) of viewers now watch television on other platforms as well (live or on-demand). Added to this, much of this content is freely available on-demand anyway, paid for by adverts (except iPlayer, of course). You can argue there is the odd BBC soap opera, live news, occasional sport showing, and sometimes premium content normally only viewable on ‘pay TV’. Don’t forget though, the BBC is pay TV, money gathered from the licence fee (paid for by 25 million people).
- Satellite or cable. Half the country has this and it’s expensive, especially when you consider a TV licence is also required. Generally, packages start at £20, plus the £12.50 licence = £32.50 That’s without the multitudes of extras, including in particular, the costly live sports channels.
- BT TV is another option, again overpriced compared to on-demand broadband streaming provided by the new players on the block. It also provides premium sport options, which is the only reason case I can see, for needing BT, Sky or Virgin. (Has similar costs to satellite or cable above.)
Better value options, where no TV licence is required:
- The UK has several free internet on-demand/streaming services e.g. ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, YouTube etc. it’s a long list. These are generally free. (The BBC iPlayer isn’t, but does not compare to what the alternatives below can offer.)
- Premium subscription streaming services, there are several, and often very good value. The three main UK options are: Netflix, Amazon (Prime Instant Video), and Now TV (Sky’s Entertainment package), all around £7.99 each. Payable monthly, opt-in or opt-out when you get bored. The amount of excellent, truly brilliant content on these platforms has changed television for good. Which is why, the BBC’s TV licence model is doomed. Watch as much as you like, when you like, and all you need is unlimited broadband (and most households have this already for internet access). If you decided to acquire all these services (for £24 a month), then TV boredom will never exist, as there’s simply too much good stuff and will wish television had been this great all the time.
Missing out though?
- News — catch-up (Sky, Reuters & YouTube provide good video content, plus there’s more), good old radio or website alternatives.
- Reality TV — watch on catch-up!
- BBC — Nah. The best shows are on-demand anyway on the big three streamers above, you’ll be paying twice otherwise. Beeb needs the money, so they sell onwards or don’t actually own the rights in the first place. There’s the odd BBC reality, public-interest, soap-opera or politics show might miss—oh well.
- Sport — Watch down the pub or… actually not much option here, that’s why these overhyped sports folks earn a fortune!
Is there anything good to watch on-demand?
Best shows of 2017 — Most will be available freely on-demand or through a package deal (some one-off payment e.g. Amazon). Again, difficult to access when-you-want via live television channels (or happens to be on iPlayer), and yet still requires at least the monthly £12.50 licence. A lot you will not have heard of, many US as well as worldwide content, however, it’s the best television offering ever available in history.
Are streaming devices expensive?
No, below is a screenshot from a HD Roku internet streamer (one of the best) which retails for roughly £30. Other excellent cheap (generally well under £100) alternatives are provided by: Amazon, Google, Now TV, Apple etc. etc. Also, a lot of smart televisions and game consoles already have the capabilities built in. Plus, you can watch on your phone, computer, tablet… no restrictions!
- 80% / 40 million people in the UK, now binge-watch television content on-demand (Ofcom).
- In the US, it’s widely reported that 50% of all Millennials/Generation Y’s (and Gen Z’s following) have stopped watching any content on traditional TV platforms. (The advertising industry is in chaos.)
In November 2017, a group of MPs in parliament debated whether to abolish the TV licence, after yet another online petition gathered 125,958 signatures. https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/170931 However, these MP’s were from the demographic that loves traditional TV and the Beeb, thus this discussion was pointless.
To sum up.
Anyone who isn’t blinkered (e.g. Sky), can see that traditional TV is fighting a losing battle unless it can come up with an attractive alternative to what the internet has to offer (or join them?). The TV licence is less and less viable every day, and personally why should anyone bother with the old offerings when on-demand streaming has become king. Radio is a different entity altogether but that itself also needs a revolution. The BBC should stay but not funded by the current payment model and needs to evolve into a different platform. It still produces great factual TV, radio and web content, although currently this costs far too much to be forced on us in the current climate.
Please advise them, those TV licensing dudes about pulling out the aerial cord or disconnecting the satellite, otherwise there may be trouble. They’ll still try and catch you regardless, so just in case, avoid breaking the rules. Be aware also, some of the on-demand apps have live TV channels built in, so if no licence, then don’t watch!
Hopefully, everything I’ve written is accurate, but you must check yourself with TV Licensing to confirm whether you need a licence or not. http://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/
(Students and others e.g. visually impaired, also get special licence exemptions in certain circumstances.)