BBC TV licence figures plunge: 700,000 scrap paying for broadcaster in huge dip in demand

BBC licence fee 'no longer fit for purpose' says expert

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Thousands of households scrapped paying for the national broadcaster over the course of the pandemic. The data was revealed as part of the TV Licensing annual review for 2020-2021. It indicates that as of March 31 2021, there were 24.8 million Britons coughing up for the licence fee each year. The year before 25.5 million paid for the service.

The drop is a far steeper rate of decline than over the course of the previous year when about 200,000 chose not to renew the licence.

The figures are likely to spark alarm for BBC bosses, who have already admitted the need not to become complacent in the face of increased competition from subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Director-general Tim Davie admitted to MPs in March that the corporation would see its finances significantly hit if there was a continued drop in those paying the fee.

He told the Public Accounts Committee: “We are watching the number like hawks.

“This is the majority of our revenue and is absolutely critical to us.”

At the time Mr Davie said the fall in numbers was due to the popularity of alternative methods of viewing programming.

“It’s not surprising that when on-demand is burgeoning in the way it is and other services are there, you are going to get some marginal erosion of people who are not watching a live stream on television,” he said.

However, the BBC boss said the corporation’s role “is not to beat Netflix” and he was hoping to achieve produce something “radically different”.

The TV Licensing annual review was published at the same time as the BBC’s annual report.

While the former indicated a drop in households paying the licence fee, the latter painted a more positive picture for the broadcaster.

It found that between March 2020 and 2021 the amount of time viewers engaged with the corporation increased.

Britons spent an average of 18 hours and two minutes a week engaging with BBC content according to the figures, up from 17 hours and 45 minutes the year before.

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With the UK spending most of the year in lockdown due to the pandemic, BBC iPlayer attracted record audiences with 6.1 billion streams – up 28 percent on last year.

Responding to the annual report, Mr Davie said there was “much more to do” to ensure licence fee payers received value for money.

He said: “The BBC has delivered outstanding content and value to audiences in extraordinary circumstances this year.

“I am proud of all we have achieved to inform, educate and entertain the Nation in record numbers during the pandemic.

“The BBC is responding to global competition and pressure on our finances.

“But, we know we must do much more to ensure licence fee payers across the UK get best value from the BBC, to maintain their trust and provide a service they cannot do without.

“I am absolutely focussed on making the reforms we need to ensure the BBC is positioned to offer all audiences the best possible service well into the future.”

In 2020-2021 the TV licence fee cost £15.50 for the year.

In April the cost rose in line with inflation by £1.50 to £159.

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