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BBC Loses 1 Million Subscribers, Plans to End Free TV for People Aged Above 75

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: July 13, 2021
BBC has lost a million subscribers over the past two years
BBC has lost a million subscribers over the past two years. (Image: DesignFife via Pixabay)

The BBC seems to be facing a crisis of survival right on the heels of the global pandemic. Over the past two years, a million households in the United Kingdom stopped paying the TV license fee which is one of the primary revenue streams of the broadcasting company. 

An annual report from BBC states that 700,000 households in the UK discontinued payment for their TV license in 2020, which is more than twice the 300,000 households that stopped payment in 2019.

In February last year, the Daily Mail reported about the UK government planning to remove the license fee system. It will convert BBC into a subscription service, similar to how platforms like Netflix operate. The article also mentioned that the government was trying to get the broadcasting company to sell off most of its radio stations as part of a massive “pruning back” of the media outlet’s activities. 

The BBC had 25,805,141 valid licenses in November 2018. A year later, that number fell to 25,606,957, a decline of 198,184 licenses. The license, which cost 154.50 pounds a year, had substantially fewer subscribers each passing month. Individual monthly drops were 7,000 to 30,000 in 2019. In November 2019, there was a drop of 62,000 compared to the previous month.

These figures spell disaster for the BBC when faced with OTT giants such as Amazon and Netflix changing the landscape of home entertainment. When you have a growing plethora of such platforms providing on-demand streaming services without requiring a TV license, it’s not surprising that a substantially larger number of people are changing their choices.

“We all want [the BBC] to be a huge success. But everybody.. recognizes that in a changing world the BBC itself will have to change,” Transport Secretary Mr. Shapps said in an interview with Sky News. 

The new chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp, came to the defense of the media outlet. 

“Against a landscape of unprecedented market pressures, it has kept delivering world-class programming across all genres,” Sharp said, as reported by Breitbart

Citizens over the age of 75 have been granted a free BBC TV license since 2000. But in 2019, the BBC stated that it will resume charging this section of the population for access to television services. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country last year, this proposal was put on hold to provide the elderly a “transition period” when they would not be required to pay the fee.

Last month, the BBC ended the transition period. It warned the pensioner population that “enforcers” would be employed to ensure that the fee was collected.

People who are caught illegally watching live television or BBC iPlayer would be charged with a fine of 1,000 pounds and/or imprisonment. 

“Detection vans” have been employed by the TV Licensing authority that is capable of detecting the use of “TV receiving equipment at specifically targeted addresses within minutes.”

Charity organization, Age UK, has asked the BBC and the UK government to keep TV licenses free for people over 75 years of age. When the BBC announced the plan to charge over-75s back in 2019, Age UK had petitioned against it. The petition received over 630,000 signatures. 

On July 9, 2020, Age UK tweeted, “We’re bitterly disappointed by today’s TV License decision. This is a kick in the teeth for millions of over 75s who have had a torrid time during the crisis. We urge @10DowningStreet and the @BBC to urgently sit down and agree on a solution to keep the TV licenses free.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said that the BBC had made a “wrong decision.” The government believes that the license fees “should be funded by the BBC.”