Catch-up TV will no longer be free on BBC iPlayer

Watch catch-up TV on BBC iPlayer? You now need a TV licence (if you don’t already have one)

31 Aug 2016


The BBC iPlayer has transformed how we watch TV in the years since it launched. But new rules are changing things for some viewers. 

To watch catch-up TV on the BBC iPlayer on any device you now need to have a TV licence – the rule change kicked in on September 1st. The rules apply to watching catch-up iPlayer content on laptops, smartphones, tablets, TV streaming devices and games consoles. If you’re watching iPlayer through Sky, Virgin or BT on your TV then they also apply.


How does this change things for iPlayer and TV licence?

Under the previous rules you only needed a TV licence if you watched or recorded live television, including on the iPlayer. This didn’t just apply to TVs – if you watched/recorded live television on a tablet, phone or laptop you also needed a TV licence.

However if you were only watching catch-up TV on the iPlayer (not live TV) you didn’t need a TV licence. This was because that TV was not ‘live’ – even if you were watching it merely minutes after broadcast.


Closing the ‘iPlayer loophole’

The ability to watch catch-up TV without the need of a TV licence – even just one hour after its original broadcast – was dubbed the ‘iPlayer loophole’ by ministers. But they’ve now closed this ‘loophole’.

The change in the law was first unveiled earlier this year when the BBC Charter Renewal was announced by then Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. ‘Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they are broadcast was never intended and is wrong,’ Whittingdale had said.


What does this mean for you?

It won’t mean anything for the vast majority of people – fewer than 2% of households solely watch catch-up TV. If you already watch TV at home by law you should have a TV licence. However, if you don’t watch any live television and do not have a TV licence, then you now need to buy a TV licence to continue watching catch-up TV on the iPlayer.


How the iPlayer transformed TV

The iPlayer has been around for what seems like forever – since Christmas Day 2007 to be exact.

Since then it’s become a national institution, with more than 14 billion requests for TV and radio programmes – according to BBC stats. After the initial success of the iPlayer, catch-up services from ITV and Channel 4 soon became available.

We’re watching more content in this way too. The amount of time watching programmes previously recorded on devices or through catch up services rose from 17 minutes per day to 27 minutes, according to Ofcom. During the same period, the amount of time spent watching live broadcast TV fell slightly too.


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