Licensed with a Licence

I’m hoping the title will help me remember: License, verb. Licence, noun.

Back in December, I explained why I didn’t have a TV licence, and hadn’t for many years. I also said

“As the BBC (hopefully) continues to open up ways of me watching content on my terms, of course I’m open minded…”

That post gathered a lot of interesting discussion and debate, and continues to attract comments.



Swamp TV shared under a CC licence by James Good on Flickr

I now have a TV licence.

It’s fair to say that things have changed since December. I now work for the BBC, for one thing. In Telvision Centre, no less. I didn’t get the licence just because I work there though. I think there’s room at the BBC for digital, online types who don’t watch any live TV. I actually think the BBC could do with more people who inhabit and understand the web. The point is that I’d changed my whole attitude to TV. I want to watch it, and watch more of it, and the BBC is (sycophantic as it may sound) getting better at letting me watch it in the way I want to.

It took several months of me falling in love with television, but also for the BBC to improve its online offering, to make up my mind. I can now watch BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament and even CBBC and CBeebies (though I’m not exactly in the target demographic for those last two) live, on the web, all for 38p per day. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally decided it’s worth it.

I wish that Channel 4 would improve their online offering. I’m happy to watch adverts (I quite like adverts For a long time it’s been part of the appeal of going to the cinema, being somewhat of a novelty to see what amazing thing Sony or Honda will do next) but I’m rather annoyed at not being able to use 4OD catchup service on my Mac though, let along watch Channel 4 live on the web. So at least I can watch Channel 4, and other channels, through the TV now.

Of course, getting properly into television means I want to watch more of all television, not just BBC content and DVDs. Strange and ironic that part of the reason I’m getting a license is to allow me to watch The Other Side(s), but it’s true.

I think our TV (a nice big flat screen job) even has a freeview receiver, but since it’s never been tuned in to the ariel since we bought it. It’s so far only been used for the Wii, Xbox 360 and Mac.

I now have to figure out how to use these additional features of this mysterious device.

18 Comments

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  1. Roo, I so agree. I’d even pay a premium for a digtal license that would allow access from where ever I am, not where my TV set happens to be.

    Oh for the remaining episodes of Schamas American History, sigh.

    Comment by Mark Cathcart — November 29, 2008 #

  2. There is more compelling content to watch for free on 4od than on iplayer. Every episode of Black Books, every episode of the IT crowd, every episode of Father Ted, every episode of Whose Line is it Anyway. It’s just a shame that the client is so horribly horrible.

    Comment by kyb — November 29, 2008 #

  3. You don’t have to use 4OD to watch Channel 4 content. They have a watch online service similar to the iPlayer flash player (http://www.channel4.com/watch_online/). I think it uses Windows Media Player under the covers so unfortunately doesn’t work too well except with Windows/IE (although I use IE Tab in Firefox and that works). Nevertheless, it does avoid having to download a bulky player (both the BBC and Channel 4 misjudged that one).

    ITV also have a similar player here (http://www.itv.com/catchup/default.html), but they are noticeably more content-free than either the BBC or C4.

    I couldn’t disagree with you more about the licence fee, but that’s another discussion ;)

    Comment by Andrew Ferrier — November 29, 2008 #

  4. OK, I should have mentioned that /watch_online is different from 4OD, but both require Media Player (which I don’t have, I’m on a Mac).

    Re “it does avoid having to download a bulky player (both the BBC and Channel 4 misjudged that one)” I’m not sure what you mean. I’ve never used the download option on iPlayer (because I’m on a Mac) but the web streaming is great, and relies only on Flash.

    Comment by Roo — November 29, 2008 #

  5. I get thoroughly confused with the whole online/tv/licence thing.

    I live in Ireland and can get BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, 4, News 24 etc through Sky (only One and Two are on the EPG – the rest you have to add as “other channels”) They are also available on cable. If you live in certain areas of the Republic you can receive them via terrestrial as well. I can also happily listen to Radio 5 Live in my car on AM (and do, all the time.)

    Obviously, I don’t pay a UK TV licence, and as far as I am aware, I don’t pay anything to the BBC by proxy as they have all their channels free to air on Satellite.

    So, I can watch and listen to BBC content via traditional broadcast means when I don’t live in the UK or pay a licence fee. However, thanks to the wonders of geo-ip location I am stuffed if I want to watch anything using iplayer or other online means (legal of course, I hold no truck with other methods)

    Roo, on the other hand has, until recently, had little interest in traditional broadcast based viewing – and therefore no licence. However as somebody who lives in the UK he can watch content digitally via iplayer etc freely (now including simulcast live viewing.) Now that you want to expand your viewing to use a traditional telly – primarily to want non-BBC content – you need to buy a licence.

    Is there not something completely messed up here?

    Comment by Adrian Spender — November 29, 2008 #

  6. And, to confuse matters further, we can spend all day, every day, listening to BBC radio with our car and every room in the house tuned to a different BBC radio channel – and we don’t have to pay a penny.

    (And, as for the licence/license spelling – advice/advise is the one to remember. That noun and verb sound different, but still follow the s=verb, c=noun rule that holds true in the UK but not the US.)

    Comment by R3beccaF — November 29, 2008 #

  7. Heh, I’m always getting in a stew over the right spellings, especially with software, ULAs, American spellings, etc.

    Anyways, I never had a telly when I was a student (always thought there was better things to do in Brighton ;)) till I started working at the BBC. Apart from it being pretty impossible for me to have worked there as a web producer, I found that I had missed out on much culturally and as a lifelong learner, was missing a bargain to top up my constant hunger for knowledge – which compliments my serious addiction to the interwebs :-D

    Comment by Rain Ashford — November 29, 2008 #

  8. Imagine if you bought The Times every day, and were told you also had to pay 38p a day for The Sun, because it’s the law, and imagine that if you bought The Times without coughing up the 38p a day in advance for The Sun, you would be fined £1000. Would you think it’s “worth it”?

    Would you still think “it’s worth it” even if you could read yesterday’s edition for free on the web without paying the mandatory fee for the stuff you’re not remotely interested in?

    Would you think “it’s worth it” if you were a European living in the UK who couldn’t read English and only ever bought El Mundo or Die Zeit or Le Figaro?

    And would it be “Strange and ironic” that paying The Sun their 38p a day would partly be so you could enjoy reading all the other newspapers at the news stand?

    I suppose if you worked for The Sun, the answer would be yes.

    Comment by Gary2 — December 1, 2008 #

  9. @gary2
    I agree.
    The TV licence is nothing more/less than Tax (every country thinks its joke/unjust), and due to the fact that it is not means tested it hits those poorest in society the most.
    Even more galling is the fact bbc worldwide is producing record profits – and I still have to pay premium price for a DVD of any BBC show; but haven’t I already paid for it?
    Another facet of mainstream centre right politics.

    Comment by Donk — December 1, 2008 #

  10. Gary2: OK, I work there, so it’s hard to be completely unbiased, but even when I didn’t, and opted not to have a TV licence, I did value Radio 4 enough to not want it to go away, or be commercially influenced.

    Your Times/Sun comparison is slightly tricky; in your hypothetical situation, both the Sun and the Times are publicly owned public service broadcasters (or rather, newspapers) but while the Times is able to raise money by advertising on its pages, the Sun has to be “free from both political and commercial influence and answer only to its viewers and listeners” (um, readers) and in any case, a great many Times fans will at least occasionally make use of some of the Sun’s prodigious output.

    If the Sun was a public service paper, both gathering news but also offering a range of non-commercial entertainment domestically, which make (many) people describe it as national treasure, then although I’d commiserate for the few people who never got any value or benefit from the existence of the Sun, and for whom it was the price of only getting the Times, I’d probably think that many of the alternatives would be worse.

    I’ll confess to not being 100% sure of my own thoughts on the issue yet. The ‘unfairness’ (to Channel 4, etc) of the licence fee is certainly running counter to a market in which was pay for what we use. I think there’s something special that needs to be preserved (even if it’s in a different form to what we see today). Stephen Fry’s talk about the BBC and the licence fee ended with these words:

    the BBC enriches the country in ways we will only discover when it has gone and it is too late to build it up again. We actually can afford the BBC, because we can’t afford not to.

    While I still need to think about it a lot more before I’m anywhere near as eloquent as that, I’ll let Stephen’s words speak for me for now.

    Comment by Roo — December 1, 2008 #

  11. Eh-hum. What Roo hasn’t mentioned yet was the fact that I (his wife) reeaallly wants to be able to watch x factor and has been pestering him about getting a TV license for ages!

    Yay for me! One down – one to go – I want a baby too! ;-)

    Comment by Ray — December 1, 2008 #

  12. Teehee, SWMBO has spoken, thus it was said, so it was done… :-)

    Of course my newspaper allegory wasn’t an entirely accurate model, but it makes a point.

    As does Mr Fry when he admits that the BBC asked him to make that speech in defence of the licence fee. He’s hardly going to bite the hand that feeds him, one which has indeed fed him for some considerable time now. One might admire the fellow’s talent without having to accept his glowing testimonial, his personal opinion, as gospel.

    I remember “Watch with Mother” (on my next-door neighbour’s set, we couldn’t afford one back then) when there were just 3 TV channels, two of them from Aunty. In those days the fee was £10 a year (colour) and it paid for 2/3 of the available content. The aerial on the roof was a bit of a give-away back then.

    Today the fee’s £139.50 and since the last time I visited a friend’s house and saw how many channels of ‘stuff’ he had to choose from, I’ve no idea what the content quotient is. A lot less than 2/3 though, particularly if you include the internet and cellphone delivery.

    The Beeb ‘a national treasure’? Again, a matter of opinion really, one which hardly stands up to recent scrutiny and which makes a good case for voluntary subscription rather than a compulsory tax. Certainly, the Beeb is a far cry from the late sixties and seventies, when it upheld certain educational and moral standards (back when I was far too young to understand that Mary Whitehouse might actually have a valid point).

    I suppose it all boils down to what is a Public Broadcasting Service, is the BBC one, and how much is it needed in the age of the internet? But again, those questions too are usually answered by personal opinion, ‘standards’ being as fluid as they are these days. Most people, I’d suggest, just like the fact that the only adverts on the Beeb are for its own products and services and don’t interrupt programming.

    Myself, I opine the fee isn’t worth it (how many times should one have to pay to see Dad’s Army and The Good Life?) and in the 10 years since I binned the TV I’ve learned to read music, play four musical instruments, written half a dozen bad novels, and disenfranchised myself from all the conversations that begin “Did you see that thing last night…” And sad to say, there are so many of those.

    A very large number of people don’t agree with my opinions though, which is probably just as well.

    Comment by Gary2 — December 2, 2008 #

  13. It’s a disgrace that you work for the BBC and have only, since joining them reviewed your license situation – credit to you for sorting your shit out though.

    You are, however, correct in saying that your inane ramblings do sound pretty vapid and sycophantic.

    I am incredulous that you actually believe that the BBC is improving its output. Where have you been for the past 5 years? If all you were doing was listening to Radio4 then I can understand how you didn’t see much change (it has never been broke so they never needed to fix it) but in many people’s view, the standard of the BBC’s output, in particular the journalism across their various channels, has been in steady decline throughout the emergence of the digital age.

    I’m not talking about the layout or look’n’feel of the website or the iPlayer or any of that shizzle, I’m talking about the basics of providing insightful and impartial journalism of high quality.

    Gary2 is spot on here and according to other recent reports, 60% of license fee payers feel that the license fee is a rip-off and would be better off being distributed across other media organisations.

    The main question that I struggle to answer is what is the BBC’s remit these days? What societal function does it fulfill that is not being addressed by any other organisation?

    The list of ‘celebrities’ earning top dollar grows ever longer in the pursuit of viewing figures begging the question of whether the point of the BBC is to become the most watched/listened to media organisation?

    Is there really any value in the ‘Have Your Say’ section of the website which seems, to all intents and purposes to simply provide an outlet for pensioners and the unemployed to spout vitriolic messsages about whatever they’re being told to be outraged about in the Daily Mail?

    How many people are employed fullt-time as ‘moderators’ sifting through this pile of incoherent, bilious tripe before deciding whether what someone can say is valid?

    As for Stephen Fry’s remarks on the BBC I am guessing that you are one of his avid twatterati followers hanging off his every, pointless, update (“I’m just going to evacuate my bowels everyone!”) staring awe-struck into his cyberspace like a brain-addled child who has drunk too much sunny-d and lost the ability to form any opinions of their own. Of course he’s going to defend the institution having been handsomely rewarded by it throughout his career you dolt.

    Question it, challenge it, get wound up about it and then do something about it. Just please don’t waste the goggle-box tax that I am forced to pay any further.

    Comment by Mrs Trellis — December 2, 2008 #

  14. Re “it does avoid having to download a bulky player (both the BBC and Channel 4 misjudged that one)” I’m not sure what you mean. I’ve never used the download option on iPlayer (because I’m on a Mac) but the web streaming is great, and relies only on Flash.

    What I mean is that both the BBC and Channel 4 (as far as I remember) initally provided download-only services. It was only when they realised this was the wrong approach to attract custom that they switched to streaming-based services (screw the bandwidth, it works – for the same reason YouTube worked – Flash fixed the video problem: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000755.html).

    I have to say the BBC have done a pretty decent job of iPlayer. It’s still a bit shaky in places, but by and large works in a pretty stable manner. Channel 4’s offering is a bit more flaky and relies on Windows/IE-only technology (AFAIK).

    Comment by Andrew Ferrier — December 3, 2008 #

  15. Mrs Trellis said…

    It’s a disgrace that you work for the BBC and have only, since joining them reviewed your license situation – credit to you for sorting your shit out though.

    Um, thanks? Not entirely sure why opting not to have a license is/was a disgrace though, since I was carefully avoiding doing anything that would require a licence. Or was your point a different one?

    You are, however, correct in saying that your inane ramblings do sound pretty vapid and sycophantic.

    I’m not sure that’s word-for-word what I said, but point taken. You’ll have to forgive me for actually liking the company I work for, despite their occasional problems and failures. :-)

    Where have you been for the past 5 years? If all you were doing was listening to Radio4 then I can understand how you didn’t see much change (it has never been broke so they never needed to fix it)

    Well, pretty much. A lot of Radio 4, some Radio 2, some very occasional Radio 1, the Internet Blog and a careful selection of catch-up viewing via the iPlayer. I’ve been more of a picker than a grazer for a long time now.

    but in many people’s view, the standard of the BBC’s output, in particular the journalism across their various channels, has been in steady decline throughout the emergence of the digital age.

    I expect we could both point to some good and some bad examples across all of the BBC’s output over the years. Of course, there’s more to it than journalism, but perhaps I feel this especially strongly since I work in the bit that makes television.

    Is there really any value in the ‘Have Your Say’ section of the website which seems, to all intents and purposes to simply provide an outlet for pensioners and the unemployed to spout vitriolic messsages about whatever they’re being told to be outraged about in the Daily Mail?

    Looking after social media for TV means that much of the work I’m doing at the moment is precisely to help people understand what it means to invite people to a conversation, and why and how people in TV (since that’s the area for which I have some responsibility) should do it sensibly. I won’t talk specifically about Have Your Say, since it’s for other people to address that, but I would agree that when reflecting and reporting the public’s input, both the BBC and the country should get some value from it. How to do this effectively is exactly the sort of thing that consumes my days.

    How many people are employed full-time as ‘moderators’ sifting through …

    I don’t know how it works for Have Your Say specifically, or why. More generally, I would say that moderating a conversation is very different from hosting it. (I doubt that this is universally accepted terminology, but the distinction is well-used inside the BBC, and it’s something Robin Hamman explained quite well when he was there.) My general attitude, and I don’t think I’m alone here, is that the BBC should outsource the moderation of everything it can; t’s something that an agency can (and does) handle very efficiently with a set of guidelines. The recent Kottke article about applying the ‘broken window’ theory online is pretty interesting when you think about both moderators and hosts. Moderation is a given at the BBC anyway, and in my experience a good host plays just as important a role in making the difference between a useful and constructive space and a derelict echo chamber.

    Question it, challenge it, get wound up about it and then do something about it.

    I absolutely agree. Thanks for stopping by and encouraging me.

    Comment by Roo — December 3, 2008 #

  16. Terry Waite on his captivity: “I listened to the BBC World Service constantly and I was enormously grateful, particularly for the fact that at the time they were broadcasting virtually 24 hours-a-day to the Middle East.”

    Ingrid Betancourt on her captivity: listening to the BBC world service was “so important”.

    Alan Johnston: Mr Johnston said he stayed aware of efforts to free him by listening to the BBC World Service on the radio.

    Comment by kyb — December 3, 2008 #

  17. While I do join in the debate over principles of a TV license / tax / advertising, I’m not sure I reach any fixed conclusions. I mostly gave up my TV because I realised that I didn’t miss it and I’m on a tight budget (this isn’t the only casualty, as all those who have seen my current car will attest…)

    I suspect HWMBO would rather like me to get a license, although he’s more restrained on the subject than Ray :-) (And already has his own license).

    What is still keeping my license free is not the principles, but the heavy-handed implementation:
    1) If I were to buy by monthly direct debit, I would have to pay double for the first 6 months, and be 6 months ahead of myself for an indefinite period. Do I need to give the BBC 6 months notice of my death to get this back?
    2) I receive exceedingly rude letters full of legal jargon with increasing frequency.

    Having said that, I was visited by a very polite bailiff on Saturday, so at least there are human beings somewhere in the system!

    Comment by Sarah — December 3, 2008 #

  18. I have had my war with Capita, and have a small stack of correspondence twixt myself and my MP and my MP and the DG of the BBC copied to me, and yes, in spite of my MP’s best efforts, nothing has changed nationally. Locally, however, I have ceased to receive the demands-with-menaces from TVL.

    A point I made to my MP was that while I’m a reasonably intelligent individual (and a former police officer to boot) and quite aware of my rights in law where the TV licence is concerned, had I been a partially-sighted frail and elderly individual then the letters from the BBC disguised as ‘official bills’ (complete with red borders) and the ones saying ‘We now suspect you of wilful evasion of payment’ would be, quite literally, terrifying.

    Make no mistake, Capita (“TV Licensing”) work for the BBC. The BBC endorses their methods.

    The then Chairman of the BBC, Michael Grade, wrote to my MP and myself: “This letter,” the one accusing me of ‘wilful evasion of payment’ for a licence I don’t need, “was intended to convey a very strong message to someone who may have been a licence evader…”

    He goes on to justify this by saying that although the BBC recognises there are around a million people in the country who don’t need a licence, there are indeed real licence evaders out there.

    In other words you are presumed guilty until you prove yourself innocent by letting a complete stranger into your home, a stranger who has no right in law to be there. A stranger who is paid on a commissions basis for each tv licence they ‘persuade’ someone to buy on the spot. And even if you are daft enough to let that Capita sales person into your home, that won’t stop them harassing you.

    For many people, the BBC is just a channel on a telly or a radio, or a page on the internet.

    For around a million others, the ‘human face’ of the BBC is the thuggish salesman dressed in pretend ‘official’ day-glo ‘uniform’ flashing an ‘Enforcement Officer’ badge from Capita, growling a rehearsed nonsense about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and threatening to get a search warrant if you don’t let them in…

    Here’s another conundrum the BBC have yet to explain to my satisfaction:

    You don’t need a radio licence and haven’t done since 1971. You don’t need a tv licence if your tv receiving device has been modified to produce sound only (no picture) or otherwise incapable of producing a picture (ie Sky digibox connected to hi-fi system).

    But if you’re blind and use an unmodified tv receiving device you have to pay £69.75 for a licence to listen to the programmes.

    Comment by Gary2 — December 3, 2008 #

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