Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Why Beeb could take a bit less licence with its fees ...

Ah, the telly. It used to be uncomplicated. Four channels. Entire country sitting down to watch the same programme – at the same time.

No more. Four hundred thousand households now don't even pay the BBC licence fee. And I'm thinking of joining them.

Mind you, I've a good excuse. I'm not like the Belfast viewer who told TV Licensing s/he didn't need a licence because their corgi was related to the Queen's.

Then there was the Dundonian who said they only used the glow from the set as a lamp to help them read.

No, my case is that I pay £145.50 a year to watch one programme a week: Match of the Day. And, in football's close season, that isn't even on just now (though I've watched the Confederation Cup this week).

There's surely an imbalance here between what I pay and what I watch. I don't even watch the iPlayer, though I've occasionally listened to radio programmes on it.

It's not that I'm against the BBC. In general, I support taxation to pay for superior public services, and hate to think of the Beeb sinking to the crass level of commercial television.

Arguably, Sky started this chaos. Hundreds of useless channels and endless adverts. We all used to say we'd hate our TV to go the way of America's. Well, it has.

And Sky functions through private taxation, a greater expense than even the TV licence. We're paying through the proboscis like never before for something that used to be almost free.

Fair enough, there's Freeview, but it's not just about the cost. I've just fallen out of love – or out of habit – with watching broadcast television. Its presentation of news makes me laugh, and so much else seems formulaic and Home Counties-orientated.

Ironically, until recently joining Lovefilm, I was spending more on DVDs than I was on the licence. Because that's how I watch: by DVD or streaming. I set my own schedule, make my own choices.

Most of the bold 400,000 mentioned above say they only watch DVDs or the iPlayer. However, guess what? One of the few programmes you can't watch on iPlayer is Match of the Day.

It's the highlight of my week. I love when 10.30pm comes round on a Saturday (and, to be fair, I tend to watch the Sunday show too now). But, even then, I only watch half of it because the truth about "the best league in the world" is that much of it is boring. Once the top teams are done, who watches Stoke v Sunderland?

It worries me too that my less-than-a-bargain £145.50 may be paying for the super-salaries that useless executives award themselves, though I'm wary of aligning myself with the right-wing nutters who bang on about the Beeb.

They dislike the idea of any quality public provision. They'd beam commercials directly into our eyelobes first thing in the morning, if they had the technology, and would reduce all TV to tawdry game shows.

So, what to do? Is it time for the BBC to think of a graduated system of payments according to what you actually watch?

I know a flat rate is easier, but more and more people believe that, as the media diversifies and ways of watching grow, the licence fee cannot continue as it is.

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