BBC viewers who avoid paying the annual licence fee by only watching television via the iPlayer may not get away with it for much longer.
Acting BBC Trust chairwoman Diane Coyle said the BBC will propose that those using just the iPlayer to watch BBC content will still have to pay the licence fee, reports The Guardian.
Speaking in a lecture at the London School of Economics this week, Coyle said that the licence fee system was still the best funding model for the BBC. Coyle is currently BBC Trust vice-chair and has applied to replace Lord Patten full-time as Trust chair.
Nearly half a million people avoided buying a TV licence in 2013 because they watch television using the iPlayer on their computers, tablets or smartphones.
Viewers who use the service to watch catch-up programmes online for free can escape the £145.50 annual charge by declaring they do not own a television set or see live shows.
Delivering a lecture titled A 21st Century BBC at the LSE, Coyle said that it was right there should be a debate about decriminalising licence fee evasion, including the potential impact on BBC income.
“We will also want to put forward some ideas about how to incorporate on-demand viewing to iPlayer into any future licence fee system,” she said.
“There is every reason to think the licence fee, which pays for the creation of new programmes no matter how they’re viewed, is the best model and a sustainable model for at least another charter period.”
Coyle said the upcoming review of the BBC charter and funding mechanism, beginning after the May 2015 general election, should be very different from the licence fee deal negotiated with the then recently-elected coalition government in October 2010.
She said that this had resulted in the negotiation being lumped together with the government’s spending review, which led to the BBC being forced to take on extra funding obligations while the licence fee was frozen until 2017.
Coyle also used her speech to call for independence from government pressure, warning that the BBC was less independent than it used to be and than it needs to be, and defended the role of the BBC Trust in terms of the corporation’s wider management structure.