You'll soon need a TV licence even if you just watch iPlayer, government confirms

New legislation will soon close the loophole that allows you to watch BBC TV online without paying the licence fee.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read

Watching BBC shows such as "The Night Manager" will soon require a licence fee even if you don't have a TV.

BBC/The Ink Factory/Mitch Jenkins

You'll soon need a licence fee even if you don't have a telly and you only watch iPlayer on your PC, phone or tablet. The government has promised to bring in new laws closing the iPlayer loophole "as soon as practicable."

"The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it," said 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 opened the Oxford Media Convention today with a speech covering a number of topics, including ad blocking, the renewal of the BBC charter and the importance of the UK's TV, film, music and games industries.

Geek-friendly TV shows we can't wait to watch in 2016 (pictures)

See all photos

That will change when the government introduces new legislation to require anybody watching iPlayer online to have a TV licence.

Enlarge Image

"The Great British Bake Off" is one of the great British shows cooked up by the BBC.

BBC/Love Productions

"A free, impartial and editorially independent BBC is vital," said Whittingdale, although he noted that the corporation could do more to reach younger and more diverse audiences.

In his speech, Whittingdale also addressed the hot topic of ad blockers. Most websites, apps and services that are free to users -- including CNET -- are funded by displaying adverts to readers and users. Users who install ad-blocking software hide those adverts, which undermines the power of publishers to charge for them and threatens their income.

"If people don't pay in some way for content," acknowledged Whittingdale, "then that content will eventually no longer exist...that's as true for the latest piece of journalism as it is for the new album from Muse."

Trendy musical reference there, John.

With Three last month announcing it will be the first European mobile network to start blocking ads across its network, the stage is set for a showdown between the publishing and advertising industries on one side with networks and ad blockers on the other. The culture secretary announced plans for a round table discussion in coming weeks between industry figures, after which he will consider whether the government should get involved.

Whittingdale called for the advertising industry to be "smarter" about making adverts that don't intrude upon readers. "I am not suggesting that we should ban ad-blockers but I do share the concern about their impact," he said.