£150m “iPlayer loophole” to close sooner than expected

The days of watching BBC iPlayer without a TV licence are numbered. The government is bringing forward legislation to close the “iPlayer loophole”, which will ensure that everyone who watches BBC shows – whether live or on catch-up – will have to pay the licence fee.

Culture secretary John Whittingdale laid out the plans in a speech today (reported by the Guardian) at the Oxford Media Convention.

He said that closing the loophole couldn’t be delayed until legislation was passed to renew the BBC’s royal charter by the end of the year. Instead, the government would introduce secondary legislation to be put before parliament as soon as this summer.

According to Whittingdale, this would be “as soon as practicable”.

The loophole costs the Beeb £150 million a year, since it allows anyone to watch its shows legally without paying the licence fee – as long as they’re not watching live. Whittingdale said this was never the government’s intention.

“The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it,” he said. “Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they’re broadcast was never intended and is wrong.”

We knew the loophole would be closed, but this announcement means it’s likely to be sooner than expected.

Last summer, the government agreed to close the loophole during negotiations with the BBC about charter renewal.

The BBC has taken a financial battering recently, agreeing to bear the brunt of the £750 million cost of providing free licence fees for the over-75s.

Related: BBC supports iPlayer becoming portable across Europe

Such cost-cutting has led to BBC Three being axed as a broadcast channel, and now appearing only online.

Whittingdale also questioned whether BBC shows such as Strictly Come Dancing were distinctive enough, and launched an initiative on the negative impact of adblockers on the newspaper industry.