Government could ask BBC to trial pay service as it closes 'iPlayer loophole' | Media | The Guardian
John Whittingdale will tell corporation to introduce passwords as part of TV licence crackdown, according to a report

The government could ask the BBC to trial a new paid-for service on the iPlayer as it cracks down on viewers without TV licences watching online for free.

Culture secretary John Whittingdale signalled last month that the government would rush through legislation to close the £150m “iPlayer loophole”.

As well as telling the BBC to put password controls on the iPlayer, he will ask it to investigate a new offering in which people would pay for shows outside its traditional catch-up window, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Currently, programmes such as The Night Manager are only available for 30 days, after which viewers can download them from the BBC’s recently launched online content shop, BBC Store. The new service would allow them to pay and watch such shows via the iPlayer.

In a bid to compete with Netflix and Amazon, the BBC has also held talks with ITV about launching a video streaming service.

But it has traditionally been wary of introducing subscription services in the UK which many would regard as signalling the death knell for the £145.50 licence fee.

BBC strategy chief James Purnell said two years ago that any move to introduce “subscription payments for its services would lead to “first and second class” licence fee payers and cost £500m to implement”.

There are several ways in which the “iPlayer loophole” could be closed, from password encryption to enforcing it in the same way as licence fee evasion is patrolled today, although the multiple devices in which online services can be accessed would presumably make it more problematic.

The government’s white paper on the future of the BBC will be published in May.

Whittingdale said last month that closing the “iPlayer loophole” could not wait until legislation was passed to renew the BBC’s royal charter by the end of the year. Instead, it would be done “as soon as practicable” through secondary legislation that could be put before parliament as early as this summer.

“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,” he said.

The offer to close the loophole – with the estimated £150m annual cost likely to increase in the years ahead – was made during negotiations with the BBC last summer that also saw the corporation agree to shoulder the £750m burden of free licence fees for the over-75s.