The true scale of the BBC’s licence fee crisis has been laid bare as figures reveal an alarming drop in the number of people paying the charge.
Around 200,000 fewer households currently have a TV licence compared to a year ago, despite a continuing rise in the UK’s population.
This comes amid claims that Downing Street is planning to scrap the fee and turn the broadcaster into a Netflix-style subscription service.
The true scale of the BBC’s licence fee crisis has been laid bare as figures reveal an alarming drop in the number of people paying the charge. Pictured: Broadcasting House
Reports citing unnamed sources suggest that No 10 wants to force the corporation to sell off most of its radio stations – including Radio 1 and Radio 2 – in a ‘massive pruning back’ of its activities.
The claim – the latest salvo in a war of words between the BBC and the Government – was played down by ministers who said there were no ‘preordained’ decisions on future funding models.
The plans were criticised by senior Tories, including former Cabinet minister Damian Green, who called them ‘cultural vandalism’.
As the BBC prepares for the next stage of an increasingly tense battle over its future, its cause will not be helped by evidence of licence-fee payers draining away.
Research reveals that the number of TV licences ‘in force’ dropped by almost 200,000 in the space of a year.
Figures obtained by the Daily Mail show that in November 2018 there were 25,805,141 licences but in the same month a year later that number dropped to 25,606,957 – a fall of 198,184.
Monthly breakdowns for January to November last year also show, with the exception of one month, a steady decline in households owning a licence – which currently costs £154.50 for a year.
The final month covered in the information obtained under Freedom of Information rules, November 2019, shows a drop of 62,000 licences from the previous month. Other months posted drops of between 7,000 and almost 30,000.
The figures are grim reading for BBC chiefs as they struggle to cope with the changing media landscape caused by US giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The Government will reportedly consider scrapping the licence fee in favour of a subscription model and could force the BBC to sell off most of its 61 radio stations. Pictured: Zoe Ball
With the growing appeal of ‘on-demand’ streaming services, which do not require a TV licence, it is thought many are deciding to no longer pay the charge.
Last October, media regulator Ofcom warned the corporation might not survive in its current form unless it took drastic measures to win back a ‘lost generation’ of younger audiences.
The Sunday Times reported yesterday that No 10 wants to axe the licence fee in favour of a subscription model. Cabinet minister Grant Shapps played down the reports, pointing out that no changes can be made until the BBC charter is renewed in 2027.
But the claims were attacked by prominent Conservative backbenchers. Mr Green tweeted: ‘Destroying the BBC wasn’t in our manifesto and would be cultural vandalism… “Vote Tory and close Radio 2”. Really?’
Tory MP Damian Collins, former chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee, also tweeted: ‘No surprise that no one has put their name to this destructive idea.
Threats from Downing Street
What’s reportedly under consideration in blueprint being drawn up by the Government:
- Replace the licence fee with a subscription model
- Force the BBC to sell off most of its 61 radio stations, but protect Radio 3 and Radio 4
- Cuts to the number of BBC national television channels, of which there are ten
- Slimming down of the corporation’s webite
- More investment in the World Service
- Ban on stars taking highly-paid second jobs
This would smash the BBC and turn it from being a universal broadcaster to one that would just work for its subscribers. The biggest losers would be the UK’s nations and regions.’
The Government will reportedly consider scrapping the licence fee in favour of a subscription model and could force the BBC to sell off most of its 61 radio stations – but protect Radio 3 and Radio 4.
It will also look at cutting its television channels. The newspaper quoted one source as saying: ‘We are not bluffing on the licence fee. We are having a consultation and we will whack it. It has got to be a subscription model.
‘[The BBC] should have a few TV stations, a couple of radio stations and a massively curtailed online presence and put more money and effort into the World Service which is part of its core job.’
Transport Secretary Mr Shapps said that while there was a consultation under way into decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, there were no ‘preordained’ decisions on future funding models.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘We all want [the BBC] to be a huge success. But everybody… recognises that in a changing world the BBC itself will have to change.’
The decline creates a potentially bleak picture for the organisation’s finances at a time when it has to take on the cost of funding free TV licences for some over-75s.
In response to the Freedom of Information requests, a BBC spokesman said: ‘The BBC is the most used media organisation in the UK … 91 per cent of the adult population – and eight out of ten young people – use the BBC every week.
‘While the number of licences in force has been around 25million for the past ten years, it’s risen in recent years but of course there will always be fluctuation.’
However, the figures showed a clear pattern of decline in 11 of the 12 months of the year.
The spokesman added: ‘Audiences are coming to the BBC in their millions as we saw at Christmas, while last year BBC iPlayer had an all-time record high of 4.4billion requests and BBC Sounds now has around three million users a week.’