The Great iWall

Well that’s that then. The great legal firewall has descended and the BBC’s iPlayer service is now firmly on the other side. As of today, you can no longer watch catch-up TV for free in the UK; instead, you need to have a TV license.

On the one hand I feel this is the correct direction for the BBC to be heading in. Allowing free use of the iPlayer service has always struck me as just a little bit silly. Sure, programs disappear from it with irritating regularity/punctuality, but ultimately if you can just watch everything 24 hours later and save £150, that’s a no-brainer.

On the flipside, however, I am annoyed that the switch has come with no middle ground. Basically, iPlayer is now worth £150 a year. Yesterday, it was worth a staggering £0. There doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to this change, other than a possible “we screwed up, sorry”. Perhaps this is just a result of TV having evolved to the point where “live” is no longer a premium, but rather a hindrance. Personally I’m well aware that my own preference is to watch a series Netflix-style, in one extended sitting, rather than wait week in and week out. Still, I would have infinitely preferred a “web only” price (say £80?) to purely access iPlayer. Better yet, let the Beeb stick adverts before/after iPlayer content if you don’t have a license (like that’ll ever happen…).

Despite these flaws, the part I actually find the most irritating is how the BBC will determine if you are legally watching or not: a pop up confirmation box. That’s right, no logins, passwords, pin codes or accounts of any kind. Rather than using this opportunity to modernise their entire system and tie a TV license to an individual, rather than a property, we’ll be left with the same old, antiquated mess we had anyway. How they even vaguely hope to police this honour system is beyond me, though I imagine they will try, which is even more worrying.

I may never have been kept awake at night stressing about being falsely accused of watching live TV, but it has directly impacted my life in subtle ways. TVs, laptops, media players I buy can not, in any way, inherently s receive/play live TV; any ‘free’ setup boxes have gone straight to the nearest charity shop so that I can show I physically can’t break those laws. Now I’m stuck in a world where I can never prove that I haven’t been watching BBC programs.

Personally, I doubt I’m at much risk, but others face more serious threats. WiFi sharing has just become a lot more dubious, for one, and although I would never advocate leaving an open access router to your personal web connection I still know plenty of family friends who do so. Living in a block of flats I’m also worried about the potential interlinking of powerline tech (probably without cause).

As someone who sees £150 just too steep a price to watch Doctor Who, QI, HIGNFY and maybe 1 more series a year (The Night Manager?), I won’t be jumping at this new, expensive, identical iPlayer service. Maybe if they add some extra features or make some of the BBC’s back catalogue available on demand I’ll think again. Only time will tell.