TV static

Tuned in to reality

Chord cutters are being brought back into the TV licence net, writes NIall Kitson
Image: Stockfresh

2 August 2019

Chord cutters all over the country gave a cry of anguish this morning with the news that the TV licence was being replaced with an all-purpose “device independent broadcasting charge”. From 2024 it won’t matter if you get your home produced media through your TV or online, you will be subject to a charge to pay for it. The change won’t be coming in until 2024 so there is plenty of time to prepare for it. To show government is not playing around collection of the new charge will be outsourced to a private company – presumably one that gets a bonus for revenue collected above a certain level. The friendly reminder to sort out your licence followed up by a visit the following week won’t be with us much longer. In five years’ time you’ll have as much luck arguing with a broadcasting fee collector as you would with a clamper.

I, for one, welcome our new private sector overlords. Then again, I would say that wouldn’t I? Our weekly TechRadio podcast is broadcast on RTE Radio One Extra, one of a host of DAB radio stations funded by the licence, along with technical innovations like the RTE Player. If you thought being a chord cutter entailed letting a cable subscription lapse and pulling the aerial out of your TV you’re going to have to revisit that definition. Under the new regime any device capable of receiving a TV signal either over the air, via cable or online brings you back into the net.

Will this bring about a windfall and a new golden age of public service broadcasting? I can’t see it happening. A briefing by the Dept of Communications I attended some years ago put the rate of licence evasion at around 12.5% and that was before catch-up services became the norm and ‘Netflix and chill’ became a thing.




It’s a positive thing to see an acknowledgement that broadcasting comes in many forms on many platforms but chord cutting as a trend is inescapable. People switched off terrestrial TV for a number of reasons, chief among them the range of content. Yet there is the paradox is that RTE can only produce what it can afford to and a decline in revenue means it can only produce less or what it has, not more of what it wants to deliver. I like to think any ‘recouped’ money would go into content development and not salaries but it’s a perception that exists and one that RTE will find hard to shake.

A token gesture? If the current collection regime were kept in place I would say so, but employing a private collection service implies an element of efficiency we haven’t seen before in licence inspection. Stay tuned for updates.

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