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    A BBC logo is pictured on a television screen inside the BBC's New Broadcasting House office in central London, on November 12, 2012.

    'It's Not Sustainable': How Much Longer Can BBC Charge £150 for TV License Fee?

    © AFP 2019 / Carl Court
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    Pressure is growing for the UK government to scrap the £150 (US$197) annual TV license fee when it comes up for renewal in 2020. Sputnik spoke to Simon Richards, chief executive of the Freedom Association, about how difficult the fee is to justify in the age of streaming.

    Last year 125,000 people signed an online petition calling for the TV license to be scrapped.

    The BBC has been funded by an annual license fee since 1923, when it covered only radio.

    But in recent years the broadcasting world has changed out of all recognition.

    Analog broadcasting has given way to digital production and the advent of streaming has meant that many people in Britain, especially those under 25, consume little or no content through traditional television channels.

    "​The TV license fee is less and less sustainable because of the technology. Younger people just don't get the BBC. They don't use it," Simon Richards, Chief Executive of the Freedom Association, told Sputnik.

    He said the arrival of Netflix and Amazon Prime had been a "game-changer".

    "The BBC has to accept that it can't just carry on as it was," Mr. Richards told Sputnik.

    'My Generation Does Not Watch Normal TV'

    "I only watch Netflix or ITV catch up for things like Love Island. My generation tend not to watch normal live TV any more, especially the BBC," Ellen Hudson, a 21-year-old accounts assistant told Sputnik.

    "I would use a TV purely for the purpose of using wifi and connecting to Netflix or whatever, so I don't see why I should have to pay £150 ($197) for a TV license," Miss Hudson told Sputnik.

    ​Many Conservative MPs are opposed to the TV license fee in principle and there was pressure for it to be scrapped in 2015, when it was last reviewed.

    Instead the then Digital, Culture, Sport and Media Secretary, John Whittingdale, negotiated a tough deal which meant the corporation had to pay the £631 million ($831 million) cost of providing free TV licences for people aged over 75.

    Mr. Richards said he felt 2015 was a "missed opportunity" but he said Mr. Whittingdale's hand was forced by then Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, neither of whom wanted to pick a fight with the BBC at that time.

    'You Mess With the BBC at Your Peril'

    "There is no question that the BBC's power is enormous and you mess with it at your peril. If you have a big majority you could take it on but when you need to avoid major crises it will be difficult to take them on," Mr. Richards told Sputnik.

    Mr. Whittingdale has since been replaced by Matt Hancock.

    In April this year the cost of the license fee rose, in line with inflation, to £150.50 ($197).

    A smaller fee applies for the tiny number of people who still have black and white televisions.

    ​"A licence is required in order to watch all live or nearly-live television content on any device in the UK or to stream or download any programmes in an on-demand programme service provided by the BBC," the UK government said last year when some MPs tried to urge a parliamentary debate on the future of the license fee.

    The BBC says the license fee helps to pay for nine national TV channels, regional programming, 10 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations and a news and sport website.

    "Last year 95 percent of the BBC's controllable spend went on content for audiences and delivery, with just five percent spent on running the organization," said the BBC earlier this year.

    But there has been controversy over the amount of public money which is spent on salaries for TV executives, newscasters and presenters like Gary Lineker.

    ​Last year the BBC was forced to divulge that Lineker — who is currently anchoring the BBC's coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Russia — was paid £1.75 million, second only to Top Gear presenter Chris Evans who earned £2.2 million ($2.9 million).

    Gary Lineker's Salary Is 'Obscene'

    "There are a lot of very able broadcasters but I don't think the salaries are justifiable. There is no shortage of people wanting to read the news, for example. As far as Gary Lineker is concerned, that is just obscene," Mr. Richards told Sputnik.

    "I'm not against the BBC and it does a lot of good things. But it has got an empire-building nature and it has failed to move on from the cozy duopoly which existed with ITV. Then Sky came along and now Netflix and Amazon have changed everything…the BBC should slim down and concentrate on its strengths," Mr. Richards told Sputnik.

    ​"The license fee is an outdated system. Everything has changed since 1923. It's a hell of a long time for something to stay in place. If they had sense they would move on to a subscription system," said Mr. Richards.

    He said the license fee should be abolished but suggested some public money, raised by taxation, should go into the BBC, with the remainder of their funding coming from subscriptions.

    Critics point out when the license fee was first introduced in 1923 it cost just 10 shillings and if it had risen at the same rate at retail prices it would today cost just £18.50.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    fee, license, television, broadcasting, 2018 FIFA World Cup, Amazon, Netflix, BBC, Matt Hancock, John Whittingdale, United Kingdom, London
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