Watching BBC iPlayer without TV licence loophole to close 'soon'
The TV licensing iPlayer loophole will be closed "as soon as practicable", the Culture Secretary has said.
John Whittingdale said the licence fee, which currently applies to live television viewers, will be extended to those watching shows through the online catch-up service.
Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention Mr Whittingdale said : "I will be bringing forward, as soon as practicable, secondary legislation which will extend the current TV licensing regime not only to cover those watching the BBC live, but also those watching the BBC on catch-up through the iPlayer.
"When the licence fee was invented, video on demand did not exist.
"And while the definition of television in the legislation covers live streaming, it does not require viewers to have a licence if they watch BBC programmes through the iPlayer even if it is just a few minutes after transmission.
"The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it. Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they are broadcast was never intended and is wrong."
Mr Whittingdale said there would have to be an order drafted and agreed by Parliament on the licensing change which he would try to get "passed as soon as we can".
Talking after his keynote speech, he said: "It could be this session if I can get it done and get a slot."
During his speech, Mr Whittingdale also drew attention to two reports published on Tuesday, which he said will play a "key role" in the department's thinking.
The issue of a decrease in distinctiveness was raised in the Market Impact Study - particularly in reference to BBC One, Radio 1 and Radio 2 and the online soft news element, which Mr Whittingdale said is of "limited public value".
He said he "absolutely agrees" the broadcaster should stand out and that the greater drive for distinctiveness by the director general can only be good for the BBC, licence fee payers and the wider sector.
And that greater distinctiveness would not only deliver greater variety for licence fee payers but could increase commercial revenue for the broadcaster by more than £100m per year.
"I would like the expectation of the BBC as distinctive to be always present in the minds of commissioners when they come to look to at bids and decide what to commission," Mr Whittingdale said after his speech.
"The question of whether or not the BBC meets the test will be something for the regulator once the purposes and structure have been put in place and I don't think they would judge it on individual programme making.
"In my view it is one of the core expectations that we look for in the BBC."
Mr Whittingdale also praised the work of Sir David Clementi, who he appointed to undertake the governance review, saying he has "set out a clear, sensible vision for how the BBC can be reformed for the better".
Sir David said in the review that the BBC Trust was "flawed" and called for "fundamental reform" - including oversight of the broadcaster being "passed wholly to Ofcom".
Mr Whittingdale said his ideas and principles of "simpler governance and streamlined regulatory arrangements" that have "public interest and market sensitivity at their heart" would be difficult for any government to overlook.
The BBC estimates that the iPlayer loophole will cost £100 million a year by 2021 to 2022 unless it is closed.
Policing options include asking viewers to sign into iPlayer, perhaps with a unique user code, and monitoring whether the households accessing the service pay the licence fee.