UK BBC TV License Fee – US Perspective

I love BBC shows, I enjoy watching them from this side of the big pond as much as you Brits no doubt enjoy our greatest hits like Lost and Glee.  But I was amazed when I find out how ridiculously scammy the BBC business model is.  Are you Brit’s seriously okay with this?

For non-British readers, here’s how their BBC tax system works
Every household in the United Kingdom is charged a flat fee, currently approximately $238 USD for a color TV or $80 USD for a black and white TV.  This is in complete disregard of ability to pay (ie. rich or poor, all pay the same).  If a household/citizen doesn’t have the means to pay, they are allegedly hounded by collections agencies for months on end until they either cough up, or are taken to a UK court and given a fine of approx. $1600 (£1000) and possible JAIL TIME.  I’m not making this up, check wiki.  The Brit’s really will provide jail time on her Majesty’s tab for not paying a TV tax.  How a citizen would pay a $1600 fine when they didn’t have $238 in the first place I don’t know, but that’s the law over there.

Now this is all frankly quite amazing and of course ridiculous, but what is worse is what you get when you break this all down for 62 million UK citizens.

According to their own data, the BBC claws in £3.6 billion through this BBC licence fee tax (To be exact, it’s £3,578.8m in total BBC Licence fee revenue for the period 2009/2010 *).  That’s for a TV channel and a pretty good website.  Yes, £3.6 BILLION.  That’s £3,600,000,000.  That’s around $5.7 billion USD for us Yanks (4,333 Cruise Missiles).

Well, lets take a look at a statistical TP breakdown of the BBC tax.

  • Per year – $5.7 Billion ($5,700,000,000.00)
  • Per month – $477 Million ($477,000,000.00)
  • Per day – $15.7 Million ($15,700,000.00)
  • Per hour – $653.7 Thousand ($653,000.00)
  • Per minute – $10.9 Thousand ($10,900.00)
  • Per Second – $181.57 Bucks ($181.57)

* Data sourced from the BBC UK website covering TV licensing (link opens in new window).

$180 per SECOND of BBC output. Day or night, fresh product or rerun.  It’s funny from this side, but I’m sure you’d feel less of an idiot if you were paying for some of these guys to get a decent haircut.  Saying that, I just checked the BBC schedule for today and it’s mostly reruns from the 60’s and 70’s.  No idea what the shows are but with names like “Dad’s army” and “Only Fools and Horses” it can’t be up to much (we have cars now guys!).

And what if you don’t have a TV?  Well, if you are capable of receiving BBC broadcasts you pay the tax.  Yes, that includes the BBC website.  So if you have no TV, but you do have an Internet connection or even a Smartphone (without a computer!), then hand over the $238 because you MIGHT  stumble upon a BBC program this year.

The British TV licence situation is ridiculous and has been apparently going on since around 1946 (link opens in new window).  Check that link for some serious inflation.

Come on Brits.  I can’t believe you guys would put up with this for so long.  Land of justice and equality and all that.  I can’t see you lot wanting to hound older people and those on welfare, which makes it seems like a relic of a bygone era.

Why not just get rid?

What do you think?
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26 Responses to UK BBC TV License Fee – US Perspective

  1. Personally, i have to say, the BBC gives a lot, it has dozens of channels, both TV and Radio, and it provides great content, that other networks would probably drop, and its not if they don’t have regulation to prevent abuse of the money, as well as having BBCWorldwide, where all the moneys funnelled right back into the UK BBC. Also the requirement for the licence fee online is for iPlayer, not for the BBC website (although i could be wrong there). Also, why’re you complaining about the UK licence fee? I assume you haven’t looked at the sidebar at all? http://www.Bbc.Co.Uk/aboutthebbc/licencefee/

    Personally, i quite like the licence fee, it insures that theres always 1 broadcaster who’s got to work responsibly with the money and provide quality, not quantity, otherwise the network would loose its government funding.

    • But with the sheer breadth of choice available now, with online and multiple cable channels, I can’t imagine anyone paying $180 A SECOND to keep a single channel/entity alive. It just seems so…wrong. Like you’re all being gamed, especially with the majority of the BBC’s fee tax coming from those of below average income.

      Futher, if Brit’s support it as you say, then wouldn’t be just as succesful as a normal business concern? In which case the BBC tax becomes unnecessary…and if not, then it lacks support anyway. Either way, my conclusion from what i’ve read is that the BBC tax is not a very fair system for a modern society to have and I don’t think anything like that could ever exist in here in the US.

  2. I am a UK resident and I have just paid my TV licence this week. I agree the price is far too high, especially when like you said even if you don’t have a TV but you have an internet connection then you still must pay. In this day and age who doesn’t have some form of internet connection? Even if you have an internet enabled phone, you could still access the BBC site and therefore still must pay for a licence. This fee is also on top of anything you pay for such as your cable, satellite or internet connection. If I had the choice to never watch BBC again and get away without paying I choose that option every day of the week.

  3. Just wanted to point out that your information is out of date, you only have to pay if they can prove you watch live broadcasts, that doesn’t include watching stuff on the website (iPlayer) unless it’s live.

    Still, I resent the TV Licence fee, and don’t actually pay one (I just avoid live TV).

  4. I fully support the BBC licence fee, it means that it is a channel that is not tied to advertisers, want to see an unbiased product review or consumer show? Forget a commercial channel they can’t afford to loose the revenue.

    Want high quality educational content? Can’t beat the BBC (Life on Earth anybody?)

    News? Well, there is always Murdoch vision (incidentally costing $380 per year for the basic package but unlike the BBC you have to sit through adverts)

    Basically the BBC provides a huge amount of high quality content every year and is answerable (I think too answerable) for every penny it spends.

    Just incase you’re interested… Only Fools and Horses and Dads Army are two of the best loved (and arguably funniest) sitcoms produced by the BBC and are welcome re-runs for many.

  5. Well if you check out tpuc and places like that you wilol see that COUNSILTAX, TV LICENCE, ROAD TAX etc etc are all UN-LAWFUL, and i say LAW not LEGAL :)

    I dont pay anything in the uk as i got a affidavitt stating i live in soverinty to myself, and live by common law. I do not AGREE or understand the LEGISTRATION system (Acts & Statutes) and therefore is not applicable. Had to use iton a copper once and it was enough for him to blet the inciddent pass. Touche :).

  6. IAN, THE bbc IS SO heavily INFLUENCED BY GOVERMENT AND THERE CRAP THAT the bbc doesnt show anything that isnt already pre approved by the powers that be. MEDIA is how they CONTROL SHEEPLE (People that act like sheep!). Surely you know the bbc doesnt give a tophat about you right :).

  7. You are soooo wrong on so many levels – I guess ignorance is typical for US people…

    First of all, you can choose NOT to pay the tv licence, look for “What if a TV Licence is not needed” on their website.
    Second, the BBC runs 60 channels, so it’s $3 per channel not $180.

    The bit about going to jail is just ridiculous, again – it’s not US and nobody will put you behind bars for such small thing. It’s probably hard to imagine to you, but again – your country is home to 1/3 of world population of prisoners….

    • People have been taken to jail for not paying their TV tax. Don’t try to wish it away, it does indeed occur frequently.

      $3 a channel is still too much. The fact is, it is a ridiculous tax that no modern civilized society should be a part of and frankly, I expected better of Britain.

      • Well said Nerdr; thousands of people are taken to court every year and hundreds of them jailed.

        I reluctantly pay my TV licence fee but was actually threatened with jail for non-payment due to an administrative clock up. I blackmailed the ruffians though…and they paid up!.

        • I’m still shocked that this is happening with the BBC tax for you guys. Is their any up-and-coming candidate you guy can vote for over on that side of the pond who will remove the BBC tax system?

          It’s terrible that people are being jailed over this.

  8. I am Brit and I agree with the OP. You cannot choose to NOT have a tv license and watch devices (TVs, compters, handhelds etc) without paying the BBC. There is no option available to buy BBC disabled devices. If you watch any form of live television transmitted in the UK you need to buy a TV license whether you watch the BBC or not.

    It is ridiculous. They send out letters constantly – there’s sites set up on the net by people who cannot get rid of these professional harrassers. The TV licensing authority is a trading name of the BBC. The BBC don’t want to be seens as the ones constantly harrassing thousands of people in pursuit of their RIDICULOUS tax.

    It’s ridulous (ridiculous is the word) that people should have enforced subscription to a company for owning a receiving device. Maybe 50 or 60 years ago this was feasible. It’s no longer feasible now with dozens of companies offering live transmissions.

    It’s ridculous that the subscription to a private company should be classed as a tax and people taken to court for evasion of this tax.

    It’s ridiculous that the BBC should be allowed to harrass the citizens of the UK and have them prove they are not a customer – with threats that the BBC may visit your home at any time and inspect your premises.

    I won’t pay them. I chopped out the ariel connection and blanked off the box in my house. I refuse to pay them for owning a TV, and I have two TVs and one computer monitor – all hooked up to computers.

    To stop the mountains of mail I have received from them, I have to submit a statement to a private company declaring I do not watch live TV (which is all pap, btw) – how RIDICULOUS is that? Then they say this may be checked by their inspectors – like the gestapo visiting unannounced at any time – RIDICULOUS.

    Sure, if you like the BBC and wish to keep it, you’re welcome to it. You should be allowed to choose to subscribe to it – just as with the other free market options available. Why should the whole population be forced to subscribe to the BBC regardless of income? Couldn’t the less well-off be allowed to own sets and watch commercial-funded TV?

    They privatised everything else. Why is this dinosaur called the BBC still allowed to be a nationalised drain on the ever-increasingly resentful viewers of Britain.

    Freedom of choice – whatever happened to that?.

  9. Oh I forgot to add:

    I bought my girlfriend a tv for christmas in 1989. I had it delivered to my house as I was going to give it to her there. The BBC took me to court and I was fined £150 plus court costs. I never even opened the box – I just gift wrapped it for my GF. I was working away from Jan 90 – and got back a few months later to find this out. It was cheaper and easier for me to pay the fine than fight the action.

    You see, the shopkeepers report all sales of TVs to the BBC (a private company) and they use the addresses of deliveries to take legal action against people for owning a product – makes no difference if you never, ever receive a signal sent by the BBC – just having bought the product was reason enough for me to be fined in my absence.

    • I couldn’t believe this is true. I’ve just googled it and it does indeed seem that UK shops notify the BBC if you buy a television set. Personally, as an American, this is absolutely shocking. Can you refuse to give the information and still purchase the set or is their a law to say you must? Absolutely shocking.

      Why not just have a system where users pay a subscription if they watch the channel? We have cable over here, if I pay, I get the channels. Simple and it works. Why can’t the BBC do that over there? I understand they offer channels with no advertising, well, if such a service provides enough value to users then it would make sense that they would be willing to pay for it individually as they use it. If not, then it’s all a lie and in fact, people would NOT be willing to pay such a large amount of cash for what is ad free TV.

      I say you Brits need to do something about this as it really is ridiculous and unbecoming of you guys.

      Privatize and you will see what the true value of the BBC really is to the ordinary man on the street.

  10. I believe that retailers are required by law to report all sales of TVs to the TV Licensing Authority (a trading name of the BBC).

    I agree with you and firmly believe that the BBC should be available as subscription only – with scrambled channels, as the other private companies do. If there’s the demand, the BBc would survive. If there’s not the demand, then they should have never forced the license payment in the first place. Why should people be forced to pay for something there’s no demand for?

    Only a few minutes ago I filled out the declaration on a private comany’s site (TVLA aka BBC) that I don’t watch live TV (true). But their constant letters have annoyed me for far too long. I chose to ignore them, thinking “why should I have to prove this to a private company?”

    I finally relented and filled out their form. I wonder if their harassment will now cease. I wonder if I’ll now get a visit from their inspectors.

    Ridiculous doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  11. I think the issues with your math have been addressed by other posters. I thought I should highlight that TV licenses are nowhere near as uncommon as you make them out to be. Most of Europe has them, and many countries outside Europe do too (South Korea, Israel, Japan and South Africa are noteworthy).

    Welfare: honestly, even people on welfare can afford to pay £12 a month.

    Public opinion: The 2004 review of the BBC’s Royal Charter came to the conclusion that the license fee enjoys majority support, at least as the “least worst” option.

    This is also from that document, and puts it in strict capitalist terms that may sit better with you: “One of the most commonly given reasons for the continuation of the fee by respondents to the consultation was that by this funding method, all members of the public are ‘shareholders’ in the BBC. In the words of one respondent, the fee “gives every household in the country an equal stake in the BBC’s future and equal pride in its success”. ”

    But really, where I think you went wrong, and where all the debate tends to go horribly wrong, is in calling the BBC a business. It’s not a business, it’s a public broadcaster. You know, run by the government which is elected by the people.

    • Do the British really find the BBC useful in such a way a privatised broadcaster would not be able to match? I’d suggest not.

      I’d also say that if you think a poor individual finds £12 insignificant then you’ve clearly lived a very privelaged life.

      I say let those who wish to support your public broadcaster do so of their own free volition. And let those who do not wish to do so, not. That is the fairest system of all and that is why i express such sadness at the state of affairs in your beautiful land of justice and fairness for all.

  12. You should travel the world more – you know, get out of your shell and put things in perspective.

    Compare how much the bbc licence fee is to that of france or italy (2 countries i’ve lived in for over 20 years) and compare the quality and range of the programmes.

    Simple answer – you can’t.

    The bbc output is lightyears ahead.

    I’m not saying the system’s perfect either but if, for example, the average low wage person had to buy all the newspapers and magazines every day to cover what he can get from the bbc in a single day he’d soon be destitute.

    • I’m not comparing between countries, i’m asking why you have the BBC at all. Further, i think your analogy with newspapers does not stand. What i AM asking is, if the BBC is as loved as you claim, why not fund it through donations?.

  13. Mike wrote:
    “i’m not saying the system’s perfect either but if, for example, the average low wage person had to buy all the newspapers and magazines every day to cover what he can get from the bbc in a single day he’d soon be destitute.”

    That is a totally ridiculous comparison – if there was any kind of fair freedom of choice then any person could watch a multitude of free-to-air commercial-funded channels and get the exact same amount of pap for free as they do from the BBC. Using your newspaper/magazine pseudo-analogy, as it stands now any person who wishes to buy (or even read for free) a single magazine in the UK must pay for a whole year’s subscription to the BBC’s magazine, whether they want to read it or not. There is no freedom of choice. You cannot even read a free magazine without paying the BBC to do so. Ridiculous.

    And any person who thinks £12.00 a month is nothing to a person on benefits is so far removed from any sort of reality that it renders all they say pretty much worthless, imo. Maybe in some kind of cloud-cuckoo-land “the BBC is great and affordable and everyone should be forced to pay for it because I like it and I think it’s good,” is a reasonable argument. Here in reality it just doesn’t wash.

    Oh, and I notice also on Wiki there’s a fair amount of countries that have scrapped the licence fee – the progressive countries, no doubt.

  14. What everyone has to understand is that the Brits live in a one party state!
    “The Crown” gives the govt virtual carte-blanc to do what it likes when it likes.
    The Brits have been browbeaten into submission.
    You just have to look at the TV Licencing methods of frightening people.
    “A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens.” – David Davis, resignation statement, 12 June 2008 – Govt Minister
    Oh and before I forget, get this:
    NO-ONE but NO-ONE can become a British Citizen!
    You become a SUBJECT to the Monarch.
    NO written Constitution means NO RIGHTS just DUTIES to the Monarch.
    Welcome to the country that just cannot stop telling other countries what thshoran and can’t do!
    Geoff – UK Subject not Citizen.

  15. You’ve got the gist of this right, but sadly lacking in the detail. In fact, it’s more bizarre than you depict.

    Firstly, the TV licence is “a legal permission to install or use television receiving equipment (e.G. TVs, computers, mobile phones, games consoles, digital boxes and DVD/VHS recorders) to watch or record television programmes, as they are being shown on TV”. That’s the official definition. So we over here in the UK need the State’s permission to watch TV programmes as they are broadcast. Did you get that? We need the State’s permission!

    Secondly, it doesn’t matter how you watch the programmes, as the list of equipment above shows. So “TV licence” is not a licence to own a TV. It’s permission to watch or record TV programmes as they are broadcast.

    Thirdly, you can’t be jailed for not having a licence. What happens is that the BBC gets people to confess they don’t have a licence then takes them to court. On conviction they have to pay a fine of UP TO £1,000 but usually it is much less – around £100-£200. IF THE FINE IS NOT PAID then you can get sent to jail, as a friend of mine was. He was carted off to Durham Gaol, and the Governor was so disgusted he’d be incarcerated with rapists and murderers he released him the next day. So jail is for non-payment of the fine, not for the actual crime (yes, CRIME) of watching TV without a licence.

    Lastly (I said this was bizarre) you can watch catch-up services all you like INCLUDING THE BBC’S OWN iPLAYER without needing a licence. The licence is only for watching TV as it’s being broadcast so catch-up is completely free. You can even play the catch-up through your TV set without needing a licence. Under those circumstances, a TV set is not a TV receiver and it’s only a TV receiver that needs a licence.

    There are Brits who are rebelling against this stupidity, and you can find them here:


    and at my own blog:


  16. I personally think we should ban T.V. Licensing as we pay enough for our internet and set top boxes without having to be charged for something else and the worst thing is I don’t even watch or use BBC and as for only fools and horses and dad’s army ever heard of GOLD reruns of these programs all the time!!!.

    • Oh and it is’t £12 a month it’s £6-£8 per week and to someone on the social that’s 6-8 dinners each time or something that could better go in to their family household to better their children’s life/lives the government are so corrupt I would not be surprised if they were claiming on their special tax thing to pay their T.V. Licensing like they have in the past for a Poxy 25P light bulb!!.

  17. I wish I paid that little for cable. With the providers in our area (1 cable, 2 satellite) the charge is about $100 USD per month. That’s roughly 6 times the amount paid for a tv license. Oh, and there are 8 to 10 commercials every 10-15 minutes. I think we get the shaft in the USA! If I could get BBC across the pond (beyond BBCA & BBC News), I would gladly pay my color tv license!.

  18. Yes, it is absolutely ridiculous that there is a Criminal offence. After all could you imagine if Calvin Klein charged every man who shaved a fee even they never use their aftershave, but in the eyes of C.K. They were capable of using their aftershave. This is the premise if your TV can receive a live broadcast you have to pay the BBC a License fee, even if you do not watch the BBC. What is worse is when the whole world can watch the BBC for free, but the Brits are held by gunpoint to pay an unfair tax. With todays technology the BBC could employ a system like many broadcasters of pay per view. When one looks at the BBC, it is not even representative of public opinion, and hugely biased. It is one of the highest payers and will not give the accounts to the license payer, saying it is commercially sensitive. How can commerce and the word BBC be placed in the same sentence it is a unfair tax, and law unto itself. It gave a £2. Reduction to blind people by the way, tells you just how stupid the Brits are to put up with this! I cant believe the Brits fought for freedom, and yet ar the country where Christmas is banned in certain areas, and called winter Holidays, for offending the Muslims. The BBC is so pro Islamic, putting up with the MPs expenses, and never once has the common law predicate been upheld and all cases of a monetary nature are held in a court de facto and not court de jour. The land of gentry has taped the whole world, and taped their own people and continues to do so. It seems however the rest of the world are wise to the M.O of the British elite except the British Public.