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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.

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On April 1st, the TV Licence is going up by £4 a year, making the annual cost £154.50.

Since this announcement I’ve seen a spate of articles about how to stop paying the 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.

But for me the big question isn’t how to ditch the licence fee, but should you?

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.

Still, £154.50 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 it’ll be £12.88 a month.

Sky’s “on demand” service NOW TV is £7.99 a month, or £95.88 a year – and 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, working out at £71.88 a year.

So on the whole, these other services are cheaper on their own. Indeed you could get two for the same price.

That’s a persuasive argument for ditching it as far as cost goes. However, as long as you can afford it, it really comes down to value for money.

What I watch

So do I get value from BBC TV? Over the last few years my TV viewing has changed drastically. Most of my favourite dramas and comedies can be found on Netflix, Sky Atlantic and Amazon.

Indeed, there are enough top shows such as Veep, Game of Thrones (both NOW TV), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Stranger Things (both Netflix), The Marvellous Mrs Maisel and Mr Robot (both Amazon), that I’m never short of something to watch.

Yet I do still watch plenty of excellent normal TV, mainly BBC and Channel 4, from Killing Eve, Bodyguard, Motherland and Inside No 9 (all BBC), through to Fargo, Catastrophe and The Handmaid’s Tale (all C4) – all of which require a TV Licence to view live.

And I’m not alone. Here’s the list of the top TV shows of 2018

Top 10 TV shows of 2018 (with only highest rated episode counted)

1. World Cup: Croatia vs England – 20.7 million (ITV)

2. World Cup: Sweden vs England – 17.4 million (BBC One)

3. Bodyguard – 14.3 million (BBC One)

4. I’m A Celebrity – 13.7 million (ITV)

5. Strictly Come Dancing – 12.9 million (BBC One)

6. New Year’s Fireworks – 12.3 million (BBC One)

7. Britain’s Got Talent – 11.2 million (ITV)

8. Doctor Who – 10.5 million (BBC One)

9. The Great British Bake Off – 9.9 million (Channel 4)

10. Call the Midwife – 9.6 million viewers (BBC One)

When you look at it like this, there’s obviously something the vast bulk of people like to watch.

What else 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 £12.88 suddenly feel like really good value. So I’ve calculated below a value for each BBC service I use based on this total cost. 

BBC TV

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.

And 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 £6.88, with a price I personally think is worth paying to make that total.

BBC News

I don’t know about you, but BBC News is the first place I’ll go for breaking news. Yes it has its critics.

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

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.

I do listen to a lot of Spotify, and there are some great podcasts out there (have you listed 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

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

If you had to pay 50p a month, that’s just £6 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 £7.99 cost to watch Sky Sports for one day on NOW TV.

CBeebies and CBBC

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.

You can get other kids shows via Sky but these are largely cheap overseas imports and I don’t think you they have the same education and quality you get from the BBC.

Other stuff

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 3p a month towards all this, giving us 36p – a just 2p less than we actually need to get to £12.88 a month.

So just to quickly summarise, for me the TV licence cost is great value 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
  • 50p a month for sport
  • 50p a month for children’s TV
  • 3p a month for the innovations

Money well spent or a waste of cash?

I really think the licence fee is a good investment, especially when you consider what you might pay for all the parts separately.

OK, so I’ve made up the values above (in reality the split is probably a bit different), and there will certainly be parts you don’t use at all – I get why you might resent paying for it. But the key to finding value in the licence fee is to think of it as a whole.

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.

So I’m certainly sticking with it and will gladly pay my £154.50 a year.

Can you beat the increase?

It might only be an extra £4 for the next year, but since TV Licences are annual, some people will have theirs expire on 31st March. Renew now rather than wait to 1st April and you’ll pay £150.50 for the next year.

What if you don’t feel the same as me?

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.

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