With so much quality TV now online from the likes of Netflix and Disney, I’ve taken a look into whether paying for the BBC represents good value for money.
It’s been announced that in 2022 (and 2023) the TV Licence is being frozen, with the annual cost staying at £159.
In addition, the Conservative government has said the whole concept will be reviewed from 2028. This wasn’t as extreme as the initial statement that it would be abolished in five years, but still, it’s likely we’re seeing major changes ahead for the nation’s public service broadcaster.
There will be some who will be pleased to hear there, and advocate that people cancel their TV Licence now rather than wait for any major changes. I’ve shared in this article who needs to have one and who doesn’t.
However for me, the big question isn’t how to ditch the licence fee, but should you?
Who needs a TV Licence
Here’s when you need a TV Licence:
- If you watch any live TV
- If you record any TV
- If you watch BBC TV on iPlayer, no matter the device (eg on your phone, games console, TV etc)
Despite more and more of us using streaming services, this is still pretty much most TV viewing.
So realistically the only way you’re eligible to avoid the licence fee is if you only watch online streaming or catch up services (not including iPlayer), and if you never watch or record broadcast TV.
Now if that’s the case, then you don’t have to pay, and I’ve shared further down how you can cancel your TV Licence.
A rule change a few years ago meant not all over 75s get a free TV Licence. However, many will still be able to claim one as long as they already receive pension credit. Here’s more information on the TV Licensing website.
Me and the BBC
Right, I feel I need to put my cards on the table here at the start. When I was five or six, I declared that I wanted to work for the BBC when I was older. And I did. From 22 to 33 years old I worked all over the Beeb, before leaving to start up on my own.
And since then I’ve appeared as a money expert on shows like Rip Off Britain and Right on the Money, as well as 5Live and many local BBC radio stations.
So I’m obviously a fan. It’s certainly not perfect, but I believe we’re better off as a country with the BBC than without.
What I watch
So do I get value from BBC TV? Over the last few years my TV viewing has changed drastically. Many of my favourite dramas and comedies can be found on Netflix, Sky Atlantic and Disney+.
Yet I do still watch plenty of excellent normal TV, mainly BBC and Channel 4. In fact some of the best shows I’ve watched over the last few years have been on these channels.
From The Serpent, Ghosts, Hunt for the Killer, The Tourist, Guilt, Motherland and What We Do In The Shadows (all BBC), through to It’s a Sin, This Way Up and The Handmaid’s Tale (all C4). And there are plenty of great older shows available on-demand too, such as classic Attenborough, Happy Valley, His Dark Materials, Peaky Blinders, The IT Crowd and The Bridge.
And I’m not alone. Most TV viewing is of a free to watch channel, whether that’s via Freeview or Sky. And the most-watched shows every year are on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Even big import TV shows like Game of Thrones, Loki or Stranger Things haven’t come close.
Still, £159 every year is a lot of money. And there are some cheaper alternatives with very good programmes.
How the TV Licence cost compares to other media services
If you pay for the TV Licence monthly works out as £13.25 a month.
It’s far cheaper than paying for TV via Sky or Virgin, where you’re looking at at least double that amount every month, and potentially as much as £100.
However, Sky’s “on-demand” service NOW is £9.99 a month for the Entertainment channels (not movies or sport), or £119.88 a year – though there are deals to get this even cheaper, often half the price.
Amazon Prime comes in at £79 for the year, which is £6.58 a month (and streaming only is available at £5.99 a month), and Netflix starts at £5.99 a month, but the most popular package is £9.99 a month, working out at £119.88 a year.
So on the whole, these streaming services are cheaper on their own. Indeed you could potentially get two for the same price if you manage to find some offers.
Here’s my in-depth look at how the different streaming services compare when it comes to value for money.
That’s a persuasive argument for ditching the Licence Fee as far as cost goes. However, I believe that as long as you can afford it, you get more for your money from the BBC than the premium services.
What the Licence Fee pays for
The thing people ranting against the TV Licence tend to forget is the money doesn’t just pay for BBC TV drama, documentaries and comedy. It also funds BBC news, sport, CBBC, radio and online.
And it’s these areas which I think make that £13.25 suddenly feel like really good value. So I’ve broken down this price between all the things it pays for and calculated below what I think is a fair representative value for each BBC service.
My price: £6 a month
Imagine the drama, comedy, entertainment and factual part of the fee was the same price as the other streaming services at £8. Oh and iPlayer. I think most people would think that’s pretty fair for what you get. Hey, let’s say it’s £6, so even cheaper than all the other options.
Don’t forget this includes BBC programmes you might actually end up watching on a service like Netflix! Without the licence fee they wouldn’t be made in the first place.
Here’s what you get for the other £7.25, with a price I personally think is worth paying to make that total.
My price £2 a month
I don’t know about you, but BBC News is the first place I’ll go for breaking news. Yes it has its critics (from both sides of the political spectrum).
But if you’ve ever watched news in the USA, you’ll appreciate not only just how good BBC News is, but how it makes sure the other news networks raise their standards.
I’d say it’s well worth paying £2 a month for this – that’s just 6.5p a day.
My price: £3 a month
I’ve got a cool digital radio for the shower. There are four presets, and we’ve got BBC 5Live, BBC 6 Music, Heart 80s and Absolute 90s saved. My god, I hate the adverts on the latter two, making BBC radio essential.
And during the first lockdown in particular I was mainlining 5Live – a fantastic example of national broadcasting when we needed it most.
I do listen to a lot of Spotify, and there are some great podcasts out there (have you listened to my Cash Chats one yet?). So it is possible to get good quality music and speech content without constant adverts.
However, given the choice between paying for Spotify and paying for BBC Radio, I’d pick BBC Radio. And I’d gladly subscribe for £3 a month to get access to all the BBC radio.
My price: 50p a month
Where do you check the weather, the news, the football scores? Yup, I think the BBC website is easily worth another 50p a month.
My price: £1 a month
If you had to pay £1 a month, that’s just £12 a year, to get Wimbledon, Match of the Day, 6 Nations and smaller sports like snooker, athletics and so on, plus every few years the World Cup, the Olympics and Commonwealth games, I think most people would think it’s fantastic value – especially when compared to the £9.99 cost to watch Sky Sports for one day on NOW TV.
CBeebies and CBBC
My price: 50p a month
Let’s say it costs 50p a month to have these channels. I grew up watching shows like Going Live, Blue Peter and so on. Now my niece and nephew love programmes like Justin’s House and Operation Ouch.
And during the pandemic the BBC has really raised the bar in shows to help with homeschooling.
Yes, you can get other kids shows via Sky but these are largely cheap overseas imports and I don’t think they have the same education and quality you get from the BBC.
My price: 25p a month
Then there’s plenty of stuff we don’t see, but do benefit from.
There are technology developments which make a big difference to how we watch TV (such as iPlayer) and how other programmes are made by other people (like the cameras built for Blue Planet, or new “virtual reality sound”).
We might not listen to the World Service, but it does a fab job of promoting the UK around the world and supporting nations that really need it.
Oh, and the licence fee is also used to make sure everyone in the UK gets broadband, especially rural areas. It did the same for digital TV.
Right, I’ll shut up now. But let’s say we pay 25p a month towards all this (a total of £3 a year).
Money well spent or a waste of cash?
So just to quickly summarise, for me the £13.25 monthly TV licence cost could be broken down like this.
- £6 a month for all the drama, comedy and documentaries
- £2 a month for news coverage
- £3 a month for all the radio
- 50p a month for all the BBC websites
- £1 a month for sport
- 50p a month for children’s TV
- 25p a month for the innovations
I really think the licence fee is a good investment. In fact I think these values I’ve assigned are too low for what you get, especially in the cases of sport, news and radio.
Yes I have made up the values above (in reality the split is different), and there will certainly be parts you don’t use at all. But it’d be easy to justify assigning higher values to the ones you use and less to those you don’t – for example if you’ve got kids you’d probably think £2 a month for CBBC is great value.
And if you consider what you might pay for all the separate parts at commercial rates, even if you only chose one or two, you’d likely pay just as much.
Should the Licence Fee be scrapped?
The Conservative government is going heavy on anti-Licence Fee rhetoric at the moment, and that’s supported as ever by the likes of The Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s News UK (The Sun & The Times) whose business interests will be boosted by a weaker BBC.
But I do recognise there’s growing resentment in some parts of the public, particularly by people who simply don’t watch any BBC (or live) TV at all. I’ll often see posts in money saving Facebook groups about scrapping it, with the majority of the hundreds of comments in favour of ditching it.
So much of what I see in these conversations is misinformed, and I hope this article can help balance some of the arguments (I find it frustrating that the BBC’s own impartiality policies prevent it from delivering any decent defence).
Like the NHS, we’d really miss the BBC if it was gone. No matter how many amazing US imports are available to watch, there’s still fantastic TV made in the UK, and a big part of it is down to the BBC. Even if you still think it’s too much money, I do think that it’s important we fight to keep the BBC independent and strong.
If people genuinely don’t use any BBC service then I do think it’s unfair that they should be forced to pay for it. It seems something really does need to change. But what?
It’s really tough to find a solution that could protect what the BBC stands for and enable it to produce the services it does to the standard it does without the full fee.
Lots of people talk about a subscription method, as you have with Netflix. It’s certainly an option, but people don’t realise that Netflix makes very little profit, and hardly pays any tax in the UK.
I also think there is a chance that for lots of people the cost will go up in order to get all the services. A recent report from the BBC said it’d likely cost £37 a month to get all the services.
That doesn’t sound too far off. The pick and mix approach to Sky via NOW TV can save you cash versus a normal Sky subscription, but if you want Entertainment, Cinema, Kids and Sport you’re still looking at paying £60 a month.
An advert funded model is another option, but ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 aren’t swimming in cash, and adding the BBC into the market will mean there’s less money to go around. So we’ll see all the free-to-air channels suffer.
And we could see the BBC outbid for some of the important big events and programmes by the likes of Amazon – forcing people to shell out more.
I imagine it’d have to be some kind of blended model. Perhaps some services funded by a reduced licence fee with others subscription only.
How to stop paying the Licence Fee
If you genuinely don’t watch any BBC TV, reckon you could do without, or don’t feel you should pay for the other BBC services then you can cancel your licence.
You can tell TV Licensing that you don’t require a licence here. Just make sure you don’t watch any live TV or use iPlayer.