For years, people have used BBC iPlayer as a way to avoid the licence fee. If you watched everything on-demand, rather than tuning in live, it meant you didn't have to pay the age-old subscription. The British government has wanted to close this so-called "iPlayer loophole" for some time and, finally, their wish is being granted. From September 1st, you'll need a licence fee for anything TV-related by the BBC. It doesn't matter which device you use -- smartphone, PC or set-top box -- everything will count.
The licence fee is a divisive topic in the UK. Some Brits feel it's an expensive and outdated form of funding, penalising viewers that rarely want to watch its programming. Others believe it's the cornerstone of the BBC, freeing the broadcaster from a "race to the bottom" driven by advertising and viewership figures. The licence fee, the argument goes, is the reason why the BBC holds such a stellar reputation in the media industry (although its value for money has been questioned) and why it can produce such a diverse range of programming in the UK.
The BBC's scope is shaped by its public service broadcaster (PSB) responsibilities, which are set out by the BBC Charter. That document, which is reviewed every 10 years, is now up for renewal. A white paper, published in May, reiterated the government's desire to close the iPlayer loophole, offering "more flexible payment plans" and the ability to make content "portable" -- meaning Brits could continue to access and watch BBC iPlayer while they're travelling in other EU countries. While most of those proposals are still being debated, it seems the decision to incorporate on-demand iPlayer views into the licence fee has already been made.
If you want to watch programming on-demand from other UK broadcasters, such as ITV and Channel 4, you still don't need a TV licence. The same holds true for modern streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and the Sky-owned Now TV. Two other notable exceptions are the Welsh television broadcaster S4C, and BBC radio, which is funded through the licence fee but ultimately free to listen to.