Last week, as quite regularly happens, a Twitter follower shot us a question along the lines of "Is it true that Freeview was introduced partly as a means of protecting the BBC TV Licence fee?"
Yes it is.
Introducing a brand new, revolutionary (at the time) television platform might seem counter intuitive to anyone seeking to protect the archaic TV licence system, but there was method behind the madness.
Freeview came into being in 2002. It was a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BSkyB and transmitter operator Arqiva.
Greg Dyke, who was the BBC Director General between 2000 and his resignation in 2004, was one of the key players in the development of the new technology. He was adamant that Freeview should be cheap, simple and available to as many people as possible.
Dyke realised that if the market was flooded with cheap "dumb" digital receivers, which lacked the ability to block television signals from individual users, then it would be virtually impossible to establish some sort of Freeview pay to view model later on.
He revealed his thoughts in his book, Inside Story.
"Freeview makes it very hard for any government to try and make the BBC a pay-television service. The more Freeview boxes out there, the harder it will be to switch the BBC to a subscription service since most of the boxes can't be adapted for pay-TV," he wrote.
"I suspect Freeview will ensure the future of the licence fee for another decade at least, and probably longer," he added.
The TV licence is effectively a poll tax that every viewer has to pay, irrespective of the channel they decide to watch. If Freeview had introduced "smart" digital receivers, with the ability to block out those channels people hadn't paid for, then you can be fairly confident that viewers would have argued that the TV licence, which exclusively funds BBC services, was obsolete.
The BBC wanted to avoid that situation at all costs, because people would then have the option of refusing to pay for its services. Given recent turbulence at the Corporation, you can be fairly confident that millions of viewers would have stopped paying.
Every year the BBC is handed billions in TV licence fee revenue, irrespective of how sordid its scandal or woeful its output. It will protect that market advantage to the death.
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