Because of the unique way the BBC is funded … is a phrase that you often hear being used to explain why the BBC are making a programme, for instance, that a commercial broadcaster would not risk spending money on. The BBC is a public service broadcaster after all, with a remit to make programmes for all of the British public, not just for people who like cooking or ballroom dancing.
The BBC is funded by a ‘Licence Fee’. If you own a television capable of receiving broadcast TV programmes you are require in the UK to buy a TV Licence. This licence basically funds the BBC. But things are more complicated now, not all programmes are ‘broadcast’ in the same way they used to be and there are many other ways of watching programmes without owning a TV. You can view BBC programmes these days on a TV, desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone, games console, Amazon Fire TV stick, Apple TV, etc.
There is no problem if you live in the UK and have a TV licence. But what hapens if you go on holiday for two weeks. The answer, of course, is that you just don’t watch UK TV abroad, it’s not available anywhere anyway is it? Well yes it is. In France and Spain, for instance, you can easily receive signals from the Astra Satellites that carry all Sky TV Programming. You could easily take a Sky box to France and watch UK TV. Okay no one is going to do that for a two week holiday, but British people who live there do. So you either record the programmes you are missing, or now you can watch them on catch-up when you get back. Also much of Spain can no longer receive Sky programming, since Astra lauched a more powerful satellite that can more closely target its beam to the UK. You would need a massive dish in southern Spain to receive Sky programming now. But you don’t need to anymore anyway, we’ve moved on since then.
You can view abroad, the BBC say you can!
Catch-up apps are plentiful, you can download the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5 apps to a laptop, iPad etc., and view programming via the Internet. But you can still only use them in the UK can’t you? Actually no, you can use them abroad, the BBC say you can!
Okay, try this. Download the BBC iPlayer app to your iPad. Launch it and tap on ‘Menu’ then ‘Downloads’. You now have two options, the second of which is ‘Watch anywhere no network needed’, this option has a logo of an aircraft. If that isn’t clear enough, I don’t know what is. So we can download BBC programmes and view them abroad. But what about watching live TV? Well, you can’t do that if you are not in the UK, not officially anyway. But what is the difference, for instance of downloading a programme to your iPad and watching it in Portugal, and watching the same programme live when it is repeated a few day later? The point about not watching live UK TV abroad is that UK broadcasters don’t want foreigners watching programming for free. Quite right too! Why should anyone anywhere in the world be able to watch BBC programming for nothing, when the British people, who the programming is aimed at, have to pay to watch it?
So yes let’s stop people using the BBC iPlayer who are not licence fee payers, and there is the nub of the whole thing. Now, anyone can use the BBC iPlayer on a laptop for instance, and if they have a VPN or a Smart DNS, they can use it anywhere. I’ll not go into technical details of a VPN or Smart DNS here, but basically they hide your geographic location and allow you to watch UK programming abroad, via the various apps. So if anyone can view BBC programming abroad how do we stop people who are not paying the licence fee from viewing BBC content?
The BBC are part way there already. They are now requiring that you’ Log On’ to use the iPlayer on a device, and if you don’t have a log-in, you will need to register your name, age and postcode. This alone is useless as anyone can use any postcode, but this could be changed. Security settings could be added, they could, for example, ask you for the number of your BBC Licence. In fact there are a whole lot of security arrangement that could be used, much as there are to allow you to safely manage your bank account on a smartphone. This way the BBC could be pretty confident that there programming is only being viewed by UK Licence Fee paying citizens. When we get to that point, there really is no reason why those people can’t watch the “Antiques Roadshow’ on their laptop in a hotel room in Bangkok!
As Captain Jean Luc Picard used to say; ‘Make it so’.