Should you ditch the TV Licence for other TV, radio and online services?

With so much quality TV now online from the likes of Netflix and Amazon, I’ve taken a look into whether paying for the BBC represents good value for money.

On April 1st, the TV Licence is going up by £1.50 a year, making the annual cost £159.

As happens every year we see a similar announcement I’ve seen a spate of articles about how to stop paying the TV Licence. I’ve shared in this article who needs to have a 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.

Over 75s

A rule change last year 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 in the last few years 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 Amazon. And let’s not forget a load of new programmes coming to 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, His Dark Materials, Devs, Motherland and Inside No 9 (all BBC), through to It’s a Sin, Catastrophe and The Handmaid’s Tale (all C4). And there are plenty of great older shows there too such as Peaky Blinders, IT Crowd, Line of Duty 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 or Stranger Things don’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 (after the increase) it’ll be £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 TV 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 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.

BBC TV

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.

BBC News

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.

BBC Radio

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.

BBC Online

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.

BBC Sport

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 home schooling.

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.

Other stuff

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.

But 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?

Alternatives

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 channel 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.

Can you beat the increase?

It might only be an extra £1.50 for the next year, but since TV Licences are annual, some people will have theirs expire on 31st March. Renew now rather than wait until 1st April and you’ll pay £157.50 for the next year.

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.

35 thoughts on “Should you ditch the TV Licence for other TV, radio and online services?

  1. Comparing the licence fee with the fees of Sky, Virgin and the like are just rubbish as you cannot watch them (live or record) without the tv licence. What a crock of …. I should be able to remove the BBC channels from my Virgin subscription and watch the rest to my hearts content. The fact that the description has been changed over the years to cover all live tv broadcasts is just criminal. It should cover just the BBC full stop!
    If I start my own live broadcasting channel are they going to send me some of the licence fee collected? Err no!

  2. I’m 68 this May, I don’t own a TV or radio. The only thing I enjoy watching is snooker on Eurosport once a year (the world championship). I pay £40 for the Eurosport player and four times that for the license fee.

    In other words, all this noise about value and meaningless comparisons to Sky is just a distraction. The only reason we’re discussing the merits of their service is that we’re all paying it staring down the barrel of a shotgun, threatened with jail time.

    There’s a reasonable argument to be made for some flat infrastructure fee, but you haven’t made it.

  3. Raphael Baldacchino January 26, 2021 at 9:05 am

    I dont want to abolish the BBC. I just want to stop the licences fee being compulsory. The BBC can use other ways to fund itself including non-interrupting advertising as it already uses advertising on other channels it owns both in the UK and abroad.

    1. The tv licence fee is worth the money and you watch channels ads free!

      In Italy you pay a similar fee (due to the high % of people not paying it in the past it’s now put on top of your electricity bill) but you still have all the RAI channels (BBC equivalent in Italy) with lot of Ads.

      £1.50 per year increase is nothing, £0.125 per month overall…

  4. The BBC is very biased. I have watched several videos on YouTube about the
    illegal immigrant problem, which is estimated will cost the British tax payer
    about £10 billion over the next 10 years. I am NOT racist – we are talking about illegal immigrants . Why is this not being covered by the BBC news??
    This is only 1 example of bias, there is also the biased coverage of the BLM protests.

    I know it is the law that you need a TV licence to watch any live TV, but this is totally wrong – why should I have to pay for a TV licence on top of a Sky subscription for instance.
    The BBC is paid for by the British tax payer – the salaries should be capped at a reasonable figure. It makes peoples’ blood boil when they read about the obscene salaries paid to some of its staff, especially people like Gary Lineker, who is not worth a fraction of £1.75 million. Do they think viewing figures would drop if Gary Linker was not on the payroll. I doubt that very much.
    Also the programmes you refer to could just as easily be produced by other TV channels. I am sure ITV would love to broadcast programmes like Gavin and Stacey.
    I also think the way the BBC has treated the over 75s is disgusting. From what I understand the BBC has gone back on an agreement regarding free TV licnces for the over 75s.

    1. Hi Keith, thanks for getting in touch. I know this is probably obvious, but you do have to be careful with YouTube videos. I’ve not seen the claims about illegal immigration costs but I’d certainly want to check these claims from established sources. But, it seems both left and right think the BBC is biased towards the other side! But don’t forget it’s not just news bulletins, it’s also documentaries and investigations that come under news.

      Salary caps are interesting. There’s a market rate for TV talent. So the BBC pays a huge amount to Gary Linekar, but he’d get much more if he was on SKy. Remember Jonathon Ross’s BBC chat show? He jumped ship to ITV because ITV would pay more than the BBC. This happens a lot. So I agree the numbers can be eyewatering, but they do have to pay the going rates to keep the best broadcasters and acting talent (up until a point when they say it’s too much – eg losing Bake Off to channel 4)

      Yes, right now ITV would love Gavin & Stacey. But at the beginning, it was given a chance because the BBC was willing to take a risk. Not all the risks work out, but when they do you end up with a gem like that show. And more classic programmes that we all love come from the BBC than they do ITV.

      Finally, as for the over 75s, the truth is far more complicated. The government essentially forced the BBC to take on this cost a few years ago – previous it was paid for from general taxation. But both the government and the BBC knew this was non sustainable. It’s been a total mess, but really the BBC should have been more vocal about the circumstances here so people don’t fall into the anti-BBC propaganda (which is exactly what Cummings wants).

      I hope this helps.

      1. So if i watch a live football match via NowTv I need a tv license ?

        1. Yes, that’s right.

  5. The idea the BBC is the “envy of the world” is both risible and laughable.
    When I was growing up in the 1970’s it was venerated. I now view it with contempt.

    It is a political organisation promoting a woke, left-wing agenda and abusing it’s government bestowed charter status. Any idea of impartiality was destroyed during the Brexit years.

    The BBC has an annual licence fee income of just shy of £4 billion, larger than the GDP of some countries. Around 250,000 people are taken to court each year (a city the size of Leicester to put it into context) for switching on a television without a “licence”. This is the twenty first century for heavens sake.

    As for content, the BBC makes a handful of world class television programmes each year with very little top class sport. The rest is polyfilla, and propaganda.

    I became legally unlicensed last October.
    I resent not being able to watch live sport on the commercially funded ITV such as the rugby world cup final without possibly being sent to prison.
    It is an abuse of my human rights, and it is high time the BBC was held to account.

    At last it looks that might be happening some time during the next seven years before the current charter expires.

    Andy, you still make the BBC the first port of call for news?
    Oh dear.

    1. Are you in business? If so can you let me know what line it is because I want to become a customer! Somebody who is as cavalier about the payment of bills as you – in the 21 st Century no less! – would have me as a regular!

    2. I could not agree more, Philip. Trying to find something I have actually wanted to watch on BBC iPlayer lately has become an exercise in wading through a vast array of ethnic minority- and LGBTQ-/’gender fluid’ (oh god)-related dross designed to appeal to the lefty liberal youth, i.e. as you say, the woke agenda. It’s a shame that the occasional really watchable programme or drama series may have to be sacrificed in future; after years of being a huge fan of the BBC, mainly because of the escape from the constant deluge of advertising, I find myself falling out of love with it.

      1. Hi Belinda, I disagree that content is following a woke agenda – the BBC has to provide content for everyone so younger people will always be catered for. There will still be the drama and docs that are more for you. However I do agree it can sometimes be hard to find content on iPlayer and BBC Three stuff does seem to get more prominence – though that’s no different to any of the other streaming services from ITV hub to Netflix where they push certain shows on the home pages.

  6. The BBC obviously requires a payment for its service, but the fee ought not be compulsory when many viewers either don’t watch the BBC or would choose not to if they were funded by a subscription etc.

    In a modern economy where many workers eek out an existence while enduring job insecurity, no organisation should have an income that’s guaranteed by legislation, and topped-up by draconian enforcement of fines for licence-fee evasion.

    1. As an American, I can tell you that the Brits ditch the BBC at their peril. In the USA the ‘truth’ in broadcasting has been eroded so you can’t find the truth even when looking hard for it. Everything is a spin and reductive; all decisions in media based on revenue generated. Fox News is spinning lies full time. Fox News is why Trump got elected president. The PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) is non-ads but tiny and they beg full time on the airwaves for donations. The BBC is iconic –the world class leaders in entertainment–the British have the reputation as the brightest and best in media because of it. Do you really want that gone? Because it will be gone if the license fee is abandoned. And the UK will end up with the American model: lies and spin and reductive, that is for certain.

      1. Absolutely right! As Andy has pointed out the BBC is a bargain. Of course it is not perfect- in my opinion it was heavily biased in favour of the Conservatives at the last general election. But you can complain

  7. You forgot to mention the shipping forcast.

  8. I know many people who watch BBC with no licence. One friend has watched BBC for 15 years with no licence. Thank we the years they have been to his house twice. He did not answer the door.

  9. BBC is a public service. The true alternative to the licence fee is not subscription or advertising, neither of which would provide a public service (existing alternatives prove this), it is taxation. But just as subscription would force the removal of all radio services among other things, and advertising would force it towards programmes that advertisers like (like ITV), taxation would make it a state broadcaster rather than a national broadcaster.

    The BBC is the envy of the world, there is no other country that has such an informative range of programming.

    PS One missing piece in your praise Andy is music. Commercial radio stations in the UK typically have a play list of around 1,000 popular songs which they play repeatedly. Heart, Absolute, Magic, Classic, take your pick but the model is the same as they don’t wish to challenge the audience to listen to something new, rather to play them what they already know and like.

    The UK music economy and global influence is enormous compare to the UK’s size, and the BBC has long played a huge part in this by playing new bands and new sounds on all its music radio stations, and through its huge support of live music. BBC playlists are infinitely more diverse.

  10. A couple of years ago Parliament were debating whether to downgrade non payment of the TV licence fee to make it simply a civil matter, like any other contract/debt. The BBC pulled out all the stops to ensure it would remain a criminal offence, one dealt with at the magistrate’s court and not the county court. Enforcement is a huge business.

    They agency it employs to pursue non-payers, Capita, has been shown to be ferocious in specifically targeting the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

    Check out some of the many videos online of what intimidation people are facing, and how those who have ‘cut the cord’, deal with it.

  11. I want the BBC to be funded differently because I don’t believe people should be taxed to fund what is primarily an entertainment service. People should be able to choose whether to pay such a tax. Some of the BBC’s income is from selling programmes but they could generate income from advertising without needing to interrupt programmes less than say 30 minutes or an hour long. They do advertise on BBC TV Canada. And/or they can still charge a fee but not a compulsory fee, a voluntary fee as Sky TV do.

  12. I think you should have included the cost of operating and maintaining the transmitters which I think the BBC shares a large part of. And the technical research and development that the Beeb undertakes and which ultimately benefits all broadcasters.

    1. Absolutely: really important stuff which people don’t realise they benefit from

  13. I think the reason most people Begrudge paying the TV license Is because of the Extortionate amount of money paid out to tv presenters etc etc take top gear as an example the money those 3 got to go around the world abusing the countries they film in

    1. Yes some of the talent get paid huge amounts – though they often get more from other broadcasters. Top Gear is a good example. I’m not a fan myself but when they lost the main three presenters the viewing figures went down, and when they went to Amazon (for even bigger sums), Prime subscriptions rocketed. So there are market prices to pay by broadcasters if they want to keep or attract popular presenters.

    2. Top gear actually makes money for the BBC. Though not as much as it used to I suspect. People forget BBC makes revenue from magazines and licensing out programme backlog to other broadcasters.

  14. Just get yourself a little black box and pay for the TV licence with the money you save not paying for Sky . We save £60 a month not paying for Sky

    1. I do think it’s amazing how much people are happy to spend on Sky but have issues with the licence fee.

      1. Think you should read that post again…

      2. Sky or tv licence should be a choice we make. Having to pay both is wrong

  15. I just look at the money that goes to Chris Evans and the other amount of utter crap they make, that’s enough reason to stay away from BBC. You can still legally watch recorded tv shows on the likes of 4OD etc, and indeed online streaming of “live” isn’t actually live, as it’s buffered converted and compressed in order to be streamed. I declared I don’t watch live tv (indeed hadn’t moved into house for a few months) they ignore it and pester you anyway. So now I ignore them. 4 years on still no knock at the door.

  16. Sadly you are right. All I got when I entered my details was a blunt message saying I could not renew until April.

  17. My licence expires at the end of April.If I renew before 1st April (using a 0% until December 2019 credit card making only minimum repayment until then of course!) does the licence still last until end of April 2019?

    1. Hi Brian, I don’t think so. I think it needs to end on 31st March. it’s worth getting in touch with them to try though.

      1. The BBC is an outdated media in today’s world. We have so many other television companies we can view for free that is is now an irrelevant company.
        The television licence is basically an extra tax which the governments of the past foisted on the public.
        Today ( 10/6/2018 ) we have been told the over 75s will have to pay for their TV licence from 2020. This is a stab in the back from our politicians for pensioners. The House of Lords who had a hand in this decision of the BBC out to hang their heads in shame. A bigger bunch of scroungers andexpence clai.ants you would be hard to find.
        We can all do without the BBC and not have to pay any licence fee by being a bit .ore careful in the use of our TV set and when and what we watch.
        The governmentade a huge mistake in passing the responsibility for the fee to the BBC. We could all end up finding g other ways to watch, and nobody pays a fee!!!

        1. So Ron..for people who don’t know the process of how to watch programmes without having to pay the BBC tv licence fee, could you detail how it’s done please. eg; the alternatives and how to acquire them.
          Thank you.

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