At the beginning of the last century, the British had to get licences for EVERYTHING.
Want to catch a fish? Licence. Sell booze? Licence. Own a dog? Licence. Drive a car? Licence. Speak French in a high-pitched voice, while twerking to reggae? Licence.
Listen to the wireless? Licence. So when television began, they naturally issued them for those. And most of the money raised went to finance the BBC.
But when, in 1955, commercial television began, some people asked why they should have to pay for a licence if they only watched THAT – particularly since the BBC was run by communists and most of the talent were pædophiles.
(Although they only discovered the latter fact when “Operation Yewtree” began).
But their protests fell on deaf ears. Only if a television can NOT receive broadcasts through ANY medium (like it is connected solely to a DVD-player) is it exempt.
Portable tellies are fine, provided the viewer has a HOME licence (which also covers iPads and the like).
And enforcement is carried out by crews of guys with detection equipment.
A famous anecdote has it that a couple moved into a new house and while the man was unpacking, the woman nipped over to the post-office to buy a TV licence.
That evening she was going out. But just as she reached the front gate, she bumped into a detector guy. “We don’t seem to have a TV licence registered to this address,” he said.
“Oh, we just moved in today,” she answered, “I got a licence while my husband was busy – listen, I’m in a hurry – tell him it’s in a pink envelope on the mantlepiece.”
She then ran off, leaving detector guy to knock on the door. When it opened, he said, “Good evening sir – according to our detector van, you are currently watching BBC2 in your front room.”
The man looked flustered. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry sir,” added detector guy, “You’ll find the licence in a pink envelope on the mantlepiece.”
Be that as it may, the BBC often crow that Britain’s TV licencing system is UNIQUE, however this is far from true. While the New World’s TV is funded almost exclusively by advertising and subscription – many European, Asian (although so far, not here in Thailand) and African countries have TV funded at least in part by licences.
And they are not CHEAP. The current cost of a UK TV licence is GBP145.50 (over 200 US bucks) per year (you used to be able to buy the far cheaper black-and-white-only one, to dodge the detector guys’ lists – but they CLOSED that loop-hole years ago).
Then, given terrestrial analogue broadcasts there are a thing of the past – you have your service provider to pay.
Which is where things get interesting, now TV is amalgamating with the Interweb.
Connection to a giga-byte network generally costs over five hundred quid ($800) a year. And “smart” tellies are pretty pricey too (although thanks to competition, they get cheaper every year).
Then you have the cost of the programming, without which you are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
But there ARE alternatives. While buying programmes streamed via the internet is expensive, the mainstream networks are not dead YET. And service providers are forced to include them in their packages.
And much cheaper mega-byte networks are quite capable of streaming HD TV with few limitations.
Which is where services like ustvnow.com come in. They LIVE-stream the three major American networks (and a number of others) over the Interweb – mostly in HD – for FREE. All you have to do is tick (US: check) a box on their “sign up” page, stating you are an ex-pat Yank – and you can receive them ANYWHERE.
And for a few bucks, they will extend your package (nice) to include the high-end channels – and throw in a PVR facility (so you can watch programmes when YOU want) to boot.
Then there are YouTube, Dailymotion, Metacafe, Vimeo and others. These days, their uploaders make COMPLETE classic and recent TV and films available – for anyone with a computer and free downloader programme. Granted the quality is variable and the coverage a tad scattergun – but beggers cannot be choosers.
Thus all you need is a modern telly, six megabytes of broadband, a cheap computer, an external hard-drive or DVD-R and a modicum of technical knowledge (or a friend with same) to give you more good stuff than you could ever find time to WATCH – for not THAT much money.
And while a lead-lined room is the only option for avoiding that licence fee – if you shop at low-cost supermarkets and buy non-name-brand goods, at least you will not have to pay for the commercial networks’ programmes.
So do not FEAR the future – just find ways to work WITH it…