BBC iPlayer could introduce a trial subscription fee for some programmes, under new government proposals.
Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who will publish a white paper on the future of the BBC in May, is expected to order the introduction of password controls for the site. That would be a major step towards closing the iPlayer loophole that currently allows people to catch up with BBC TV without paying for a TV licence, due to the licence’s outdated legislation. By giving licence fee payers a password, those who do not have a licence would be unable to use the service.
The Telegraph reports that Whittingdale will also ask for the trial of additional subscription fees that would let users pay extra to watch shows such as The Night Manager outside of the standard, free 30-day catch-up window.
The government has made it clear on several occasions previously that it will close the loophole as soon as possible.
“The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it. 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,” reiterated Whittingdale recently.
He continues to negotiate with the BBC to determine the corporation’s future, as the 10-year Royal Charter nears its expiry date of 31st December 2016. It will then be replaced by a new 10-year agreement, which could see the organisation significantly reorganised, amid budget cuts and concerns that the BBC is not “distinctive” enough in its programming compared to commercial rivals – despite the fact that research suggests that this is not the case.
Some are concerned that a trial subscription fee could pave the way for a more standard subscription service from the BBC, which might lead to further changes to the licence fee system.