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14 reasons why you should stop moaning about paying the TV Licence every day

It is a popular complaint - over the last 11 years - that this site is called UK Free TV and yet people have to pay the TV licence. I thought it would be interesting to see how we pay for free TV.

I am always happy to find out that things are not costing me the earth!  Photograph: Shutterstock
I am always happy to find out that things are not costing me the earth! Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

I think I have lost count of the number of times that people have objected to this site being called UK Free TV. But, they say, the TV Licence (c and c, as we are British) costs £145.50 a year.

It is true, of course, as you can find out from TV Licensing (c and s this time). If you have any device that you can watch TV as it broadcast, you need to pay up.

Going into a local store to buy a brand-new off-contract phone recently, I noted with interest that you can also get it for "free", but only if you pay for a contract. This reminds me of the excellent quote from 1984 by George Orwell:

To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as "This dog is free from lice" or "This field is free from weeds" ... Reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive.

Last month we looked at Does the BBC or BSkyB spend more on programmes?, so it is only fair to consider the cost of the rest of the free channels.

So here is a graphic comparing the daily cost of TV from the main UK broadcasters:

The first row shows the joint total for ITV, STV and UTV. It is worth noting that the Channel 3 broadcasters provide a regional news service on their main channels: however some channels such as itv3 and c-itv are wholly archive.

The second row shows the figures for Channel 4. This channel is a UK-wide service with no expensive regional programmes. The other channels from this broadcaster are archive TV shows and movies.

The Channel 5 services have some first-run UK content, but a large proportion of the output is from US broadcasters. These imported programmes are cheaper to show as they have been funded by their broadcast in other markets: the USA has a population five times that of the UK.

The fourth line is the figure for "all other broadcasters". This includes the likes of UKTV (a BBC/Scripps joint venture) and channels that use BSkyB to sell their advertising time.

It is worth remembering that the above figures for the cost of advertising only include the cost of airtime paid directly to the broadcaster. The real cost of advertising that is passed onto consumers also includes the cost of scripting and producing the adverts and also paying the actors, voice talent and musicians.

I have not been able to come up with a figure for this, so did not include it. Of course, this is passed onto you, the consumer.

For comparison, the BBC fee income has been reduced by 20% (to account money spent on national and local radio stations), and factored to represent the average 2.4 people-per-household in the UK. Also shown is the most-basic £21.50 Sky package.

The BBC still seems good value for money. These commercial broadcasters spend 20% of their airtime on adverts, not programmes. The BBC runs two channels of first-run UK content, with a large network of regional studios.

The "old argument" against the BBC taking advertising still holds: it would clearly put ITV plc out of business in minutes.

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

10:48 PM

trevorjharris: I think your ideological slip is showing....

Can we first get out of the way the idea that the 'The BBC will send you to prison if you don't pay. That is draconian'. Briantist has already pointed out that the BBC does not jail you for not paying your licence, but it should be also notied that Draco would not have jailed anyone - slavery or more usually, death would have been the penalty. Of course under Draco's rule licence evasion would be zero....

Logically, why would any other commercial broadcaster need to ask the courts for sanctions, since they reply on advertising...apart from Sky! Premier League clamps down on illegal Sky use in UK pubs

As for 'Benefits Street', C4's programme has been accused of misrepresention and selective editing by a whole load of different commentators, and its not the first time that C4 has made a prgramme which was economical with the truth for the sake of sensation. In fact I've complained to Ofcom myself...
In any case, its a legit topic of debate (its was also on Newsnight), and certainly isn't a manifestation of 'left wing bias'. What your seeing says much more about you than the BBC ....

Michael: I think your right about the pro's outweighting the cons, but although general taxation sounds attractive, there are several problems. Much as I hate hypothication, there is a case to be made that you pay for what you use. If you dont have a TV or radio, then you could argue you should not pay for the BBC. Its actually a very weak arguement, but there you are.

The other is much stronger - that taxation means government control. We have never had a 'government' broadcaster, although the 1926 General Strike did show how much influence the government could have (Reith was very angry at it), and certainly the BBC is managerially 'conservative' with a small 'c' (Christmas trees!).

If you allow government to have control over finance every year you end up with a creature of the government, with its whims, paranoia and preoccupations. You'll end up with government appointees in charge (Lord Patten is very far from that), rather like Greece.
You could also end up like the Italians or possibly the French.

Sky's perfect scenario is something like the US, where NPR and PBS are small players ($443m from government), with no real power, but are subject to the vindicativeness and occasional kindness of politicians. Its an excellent service, but it neuters itself (referring to GOP Congressmen as 'Washington Lawmakers' when reporting on a GOP stop to a popular bill), and constantly has to scrimp and beg. The GOP voted to remove funding from the CPB Funding Cuts Leave The Future of PBS in Question - even though it was tiny amount (in terms of overall US spending) and in terms of PBS's budget, and Mitt Romney said he would do the same The Presidential Debate’s Biggest Loser: Big Bird - ABC News - killing Big Bird was more about theatrics than saving money.

I dont want Grant Shapps (or Tony Blair during the Iraq War) suddenly deciding to cut the BBC's budget, because of something they have said or reported, and I certainly dont want the threat to hang over any reporter that a report might displease in minister, and thus kill their budget. The Conservatives certainly are ready for such a threat...

We need a seperate BBC, with enough heft to do good work, which is open, and admits when it does things wrong, but is brave enought to talk truth to power. Thats why a licence fee, rather than taxation, works.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag

10:56 PM

In 1923 things were very different. There was only one broadcaster and so if you wanted to listen to the BBC you should pay for doing so. As we know the BBC had a monopoly which introduced its own issues. For instance the BBC was very reluctent to start a television service in 1932. Again in 1967 the BBC had to start Radio 1 after pressure from the Pirates who were getting massive audiences. Commercial radio did not start till 1973 although there was a big demand. So the BBC monopoly had a significant bad affect on broadcasting in the UK. Even today the BBC has been very slow in adopting HD television.

In the day of mulitimedia there is no logic to the tv licence. How come I have to pay the for the BBC if I watch or record anything that is broadcast but I don't have to pay if I watch the same programs on catchup tv. IIlogical!

Of course I think the forced licence fee should be stopped thereby reducing the crime rate by 10%. Some people support the decriminalisation for not paying and making it a civil offence.

Actually voluntary financing of radio stations is viable. Premiere Christian Radio raises very big voluntary donations.

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trevorjharris's 367 posts GB flag

11:23 PM


I should say I have no view on "Benifits Streets" as I have not been following the discusion. My point was that the One show was very biased when they should be giving a balanced view.

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trevorjharris's 367 posts GB flag
Wednesday, 15 January 2014
Jack Luxon

7:25 AM

Rob, I agree with Brian, sub-titles on BBC work fine for me but I'm not allowed to use them all the time as they irritate my wife. I suspect they don't work too well on a 'live' broadcast such as the news as they have to be created on the fly. I use headphones as well as sub-titles and found the titles very useful when watching 'The Wire' as most of the dialogue was unintelligible. At least the sub-titles come up in various colours to help one distinguish who is saying what, unlike Danish sub-titles (The Bridge, Borgen) which leave one guessing.

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Jack Luxon's 33 posts GB flag
9:47 AM

Good Article and well argued- but can I ask - why these head shots of young women, what is the relevance? (you haven't been got to by some marketing types have you?)

I love this site and have followed for a long time, but it seems to be getting updated much less frequently than it was.

BTW I think 20% as proportion of screen time given to adverts is bit optimistic. On minor channels we are down to 40 minutes an hour of actual content. I cannot watch this way- so I record and zap. What use is that to the advertisers?

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Riv-dogg's 11 posts GB flag
Riv-dogg's: mapR's Freeview map terrainR's terrain plot wavesR's frequency data R's Freeview Detailed Coverage

10:35 AM

Riv-dogg: Thanks.

"why these head shots of young women, what is the relevance?"

The photos (of both genders) are there to ensure that Google accepts these pages as "news postings". If you don't have an 460 × 276 image, then fewer people would get to see the postings and comments.

Whilst the site is popular - 3m visitors from the UK last year, there is a bit of gender imbalance. Choosing faces, rather than logos or equipment is an attempt to make UK Free TV accessible to all.

Interestingly, from an "age" point of view, the site is very balanced indeed.

"but it seems to be getting updated much less frequently than it was."

I had a bit of bad time the end of last year: I managed to break my leg (yes, again!) and then had a back muscle-spasm thing... I tried to keep Zeitgeist | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice being posted with new articles.

I *have* done quite a few updates, but most of them have been in "the back end". This means the site is much, much faster.

I'm trying to put some new posts together. The next one - today I hope - is "8 weird ways that the weather will actually stop you watching free TV".

Re "BTW I think 20% as proportion of screen time given to adverts is bit optimistic" - I know it seems that way, but Ofcom | Regulating the quantity of advertising on television says

" This sets a limit for all channels of 12 minutes on the amount of advertising which may be shown in one hour.

The rules which apply in the UK set limits for the commercial public service broadcasters (PSBs) Channel 3, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 - and all other commercial broadcasters. For example, there is a limit on the average number of minutes per hour of advertising across the day of 7 minutes an hour (off peak) for PSBs and 9 minutes an hour for all other broadcasters ."

12 minutes = 20%. 7 mins = 12%, 9 mins= 15%

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Briantist's 38,910 posts GB flag
4:22 PM

Thanks for the explanation - and I hope your health woes sort themselves out. The issue of advertising to programme ratio is moot. The channels may well only show the allowed volume of commercials, but they promote themselves remorselessly and it sure feels like advertising. Most US imports are somewhere between 41 and 43 minutes of actual programme time per hour. Subtract from this, Titles, Credits, 'previously' and 'next' and you are down below 40 minutes. And there is the heinous business of captions (and even voiceovers) trailing the next show over the previous. In our house we just don't watch commercial TV live any more - we record and zap - They have killed their own golden goose.I agree that the BBC is outstanding value for money, but it's a tax not a choice.

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Riv-dogg's 11 posts GB flag
Riv-dogg's: mapR's Freeview map terrainR's terrain plot wavesR's frequency data R's Freeview Detailed Coverage

4:58 PM

Riv-dogg: Thanks... mostly sorted now healthwise.. just physiotherapy.

I've done a quick diagram to show the a 44 minute "hour" in the UK and US.

The UK version is for the "max 12 minutes". Any additional time tends to get moved into promos, rather than content.

The US format has 12 national and 4 local ad minutes per hour.

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Briantist's 38,910 posts GB flag

5:11 PM

I suspect there is a very British need to make a tea...

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Briantist's 38,910 posts GB flag
Mike Dimmick

7:28 PM

@Briantist: Most US writers for TV talk about the 'third act' as the final one. I have to say I've never seen a 60-minute programme that has more than 3 acts. (The act break is very obvious when watching a DVD box set as there is a full fade to black). The spacing of the ad breaks, unfortunately, often does *not* fit into ITV/C4/C5's requirements - causing the UK broadcaster to recut the episode. The timings are also affected by the programme running 4% fast. Typically US drama is filmed at 24 frames per second, shown in the US with 3:2 pulldown telecine to convert to roughly 60 fields per second [i.e. 30 whole frames/sec], but just sped up to match Europe's 50 fields per second (25 frames).

This is a major problem when the script has obvious cliffhangers at the end of each act. It's often uncomfortable to watch an imported series on a commercial PSB or one of its 'portfolio' channels because the acts just randomly break off at the end of a scene (often with a horrible fade and not resuming sensibly after the break), and the cliffhangers have no element of suspense because they slam straight into the next scene. I particularly remember Joss Whedon's 'Dollhouse', when it eventually ended up on ITV4, being wrecked by completely inappropriate break points. (The commissioning broadcaster, Fox, was also experimenting with shorter ad breaks so the programme runs 48-49 minutes rather than the more typical 42-44.)

Your diagram is accurate in that the US typically does insert an ad break after the 'teaser' and opening titles before Act 1, and often between the final act and the closing credits roll. In contrast the UK commercial PSBs don't have a break between opening titles and the first act. (The 'teaser' or 'cold open' is becoming more common over here than it used to be, even on BBC-commissioned programmes - possibly to assist with selling the series back to the US.) 

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Mike Dimmick's 2,486 posts GB flag
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