PR harlot Richard Chapman has been preaching the gospel according to TV Licensing on BBC Radio Cornwall.
It must be handy being the BBC's revenue generation arm, as there's never a shortage of two-bit BBC local radio stations prepared to give you airtime in a bid to preserve their funding.
Chapman, who works for Bristol-based TV Licensing PR contractor Grayling, gave a pre-recorded interview to lunchtime phone-in host Laurence Reed. The 10 minute segment was broadcast at around 12.50 pm on Friday, 5th August 2016.
The hot topic of discussion, just as you'd expect, was the imminent closure of the so-called BBC iPlayer loophole. According to Chapman, those nice people at TV Licensing - who have prosecuted God knows how many thousand of innocent people over the years - really don't want anyone to become a cropper by watching on-demand BBC iPlayer programmes without a valid TV licence.
A transcript of the segment appears below:
Laurence Reed (LR): We’re talking about television. Students in Cornwall are being warned to buy a television licence from this September, even if they only watch TV via their computer.
Now a change in the law means as from the 1st September a licence will be needed to download or watch BBC programmes on-demand, including catch-up TV or the iPlayer.
Now research by TV Licensing has revealed (that) iPlayer is the most popular catch-up platform used by students, ahead of sites such as YouTube, (and) services including Netflix.
So from what I’ve just read out the assumption is that it’s just BBC downloads that you will need a licence for. I’ve been talking to Richard Chapman from TV Licensing.
Richard Chapman (RC): Yes, it’s quite interesting. What’s happening is, there is a change in the law that means if you’re watching programmes on-demand from the BBC – which for most people it tends to be using the iPlayer – so if you’re watching catch-up services, you now need to have a TV licence to do that, which wasn’t the case before 1st September.
LR: Absolutely, it was always free in the past wasn’t it? Any idea how much revenue this is going to generate?
RC: Off the top of my head I couldn’t really put a figure to that. For most people it won’t really make a massive difference, because obviously the vast majority of the population pay their TV licence and that means they can continue to enjoy all the services. It’s only people who have only ever watched TV on catch-up services – or specifically the BBC programmes – that are now going to have to pay for a licence to do that.
LR: How are you going to get the money? How are you going to collect it? How would you know if I was on my smart phone at home watching BBC iPlayer?
RC: Well the main way that we kind of monitor the situation is, we have a database of over 30 million addresses, so we can see quite easily, at the touch of a button, where people have TV licences and where they don’t. So if a licence is not in place in a certain residence then we use our officers who go around, knock on doors and will talk to people directly and obviously they have their own detecting equipment which they use as well.
LR: And this detecting equipment – is it a bit of a fallacy? You know, you see these licence detector vans – I mean, they can’t honestly say if I’ve got my smart phone switched on, can they?
RC: Well the technology allows them to do that. As I say, the main thing we rely on is this database, which makes it really easy to see who does and doesn’t have a licence.
LR: So you’ll have no trouble collecting it? You will know if I’m on my computer or on my phone watching something without paying for it?
RC: We’ll know if you don’t have a licence and then we’ll be able to come and just check and talk to you about it. And it might be that some people might not be aware of when they do and don’t need a licence, so that’s why we’re so keen to get this message out that the law is changing and people who want to avoid being prosecuted, or avoid a fine, they make sure that they’ve got a licence in place.
LR: Yeah, the student population in Cornwall is huge. We were only talking this week about another couple of thousand students coming to Falmouth University and I suppose you’ll be targeting the students, I’m guessing, will you?
RC: Yeah, we do. And that’s not because we expect them to try to avoid – it’s just because a lot of students, certainly when they’re moving to universities, whether it’s in the county or out the county for the first time – sometimes the TV licence might not be on top of their list of things to make sure that they’ve got. So it’s just making sure that they’re aware that they need to have that. They’re not going to be necessarily covered by the licence that their parents might have at home. So make sure that they’ve got that.
Obviously a lot of people are not taking TVs to university like they used to years ago - but they are taking laptops, smart phones and tablets - and if you’re watching live TV on any of those devices – and from 1st September if you’re watching programmes on-demand from the BBC on those devices – you’re going to need to get a TV licence.
LR: Yes, I’m just looking at some of your research here – and your research says that 2 in 3 students view catch-up TV, many of those watching on-demand. So we’re talking thousands of people here who may be breaking the law come September 1st.
RC: That’s right, yes. So we’re just trying to make sure that people are aware of that, so they can make sure that they’re not breaking the law.
LR: Is it going to be softly, softly to start with? You know, are you going to go in all guns blazing?
RC: Well, you know – we try to be proportional, but obviously we’re trying to get the message out so that people have got as much chance to make sure they get themselves covered so that doesn’t become an issue.
LR: Okay, can you remind me finally what the fines are? And I make sure I have mine on Direct Debit every year, because the worst thing I can do working for the BBC is not pay my TV licence [RC: That’s right]. You can pay monthly, there’s various ways you can pay. What’s the level of fines?
RC: Firstly, there’s lots of different ways to pay as you say, whether that be annually or monthly a lot of people pay by Direct Debit. If you are prosecuted you could be fined up to £1,000.
Reed and fellow presenter Martin Bailie then spent a few moments discussing and reiterating some of the key points from Chapman's interview.
The general gist of it, just as you'd expect, was "be sure to buy a TV licence to avoid prosecution (and keep funding the BBC)".
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