BBC 2017: The problem with turning Freeview into Payview to keep the 3% happy
Do we have a working alternative to the Licence Fee? Photograph: Shutterstock
In my almost all of my previous writings in this BBC 2017 section, I have been looking at either keeping the BBC as it is, or turning it into BBC plc in a near-future without public service broadcasters.
Another possibility is that the BBC keeps the status of being a public service broadcaster.
BBC remains "public service broadcaster", BBC fee opt-out, Virgin/Sky required to charge special low fees
One of the problems for the BBC plc option is that the BBC would be required to pay the going-rate for the encryption (which would be £62 a year). This would mean that the BBC could collect the current level of income by a monthly charge of £14, if the BBC fee was made opt-out. Non-payment of the BBC component of the bill would block BBC services.
If the payment was opt-in, this might require the fee to be raised to £18 to get 60% of homes on board.
However, there is an "elephant in the room" in this plan. Which are the 10.3 million homes that use Freeview
The following is an Ofcom diagram showing the take-up of the digital
TV platforms in the 2002-2011 period.
The staggering growth of Freeview, which added 1.1 million homes a year, and the initial launch of Sky
Digital which managed 1.6 million homes per year were both quite an achievement.
However, you then have to ask how long, using these adoption rates, it would take to convert 10.3 million homes to have pay-DTT. This diagram gives the answers.
In addition to the timescales there are a number of issues to be dealt with:
Who is going to want to buy a BBC subscription
box ahead of the time that it can be used? There is no consumer benefit.
If the BBC is not transformed into a cash-rich public company, how can it fund the boxes? With no prediction of future profit, who would invest in "Beebview", especially given the scale of the project?
Given the "postcode lottery" of DTT reception, a package that also included subscription would be beneficial to those with eight multiplex
coverage, and useless to homes with Freeview Light's three multiplexes.
Long term internet television boxes could provide an answer, but they still unlikely to see an adoption fast enough.
It seems that even a legislated solution to ensure that Sky and Virgin do not profit from the BBC would still require the biggest-ever technology roll out to encrypt the BBC services on DTT.
It seems that keeping a the vocal minority of 3% who do not wish to contribute happy, would cost everyone else (including Sky and Virgin) "big bucks".