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TV Licence loophole for iPlayer content to close on 1 September

Viewers will need to have paid for a BBC TV Licence in order to access on-demand and catch-up content on its iPlayer service from 1 September 2016.

From this date, a legal change will be implemented so that a TV Licence is required to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch-up TV, on BBC iPlayer.

Although the licence has long been a requirement for all live viewing and recording, the advent of streaming video on a wide array of devices in recent years has seen viewing habits increasingly sway away from watching shows live and towards catch-up services.

With no prior legal requirement to own a licence in order to access the service in the UK, one of the BBC’s primary sources of income could have come under threat.

“From 1 September, everyone will need to be covered by a TV Licence to watch BBC TV programmes on demand – including catch-up – on iPlayer,” Caroline McCourt, spokesperson for TV Licensing stated.

In March, former culture secretary John Whittingdale was openly critical that the loophole had been allowed to continue.

"When the licence fee was invented, video on demand did not exist," he said. "The BBC works on the basis that all who watch it pay for it. Giving a free ride to those who enjoy Sherlock or Bake Off an hour, a day or a week after they are broadcast was never intended and is wrong."

A licence will still not be needed to watch other on-demand services, such as ITV Player or Netflix, but the new rules apply to all devices used to access iPlayer which include laptops, smartphones, tablets, TV streaming devices and games consoles, as well as third-party services such as Sky, Virgin or BT.

More than 25 million TV Licences were issued in 2015, so most households will already be covered, but an estimated two per cent are not covered so could be liable for a fine when the rules come into effect.

“It’s surprising how little has been said regarding the changes being made to the TV Licence, considering we’re only a few weeks away from the new rules coming into effect,” TV comparison site Broadband Genie said in a statement.

“We could end up with a situation where many Brits are unknowingly breaking the law come September 1st, simply because they’re unaware of the changes. In the coming weeks we need a strong campaign by TV Licensing promoting the changes to both non and current licence fee holders.

“It’s hard to say whether these changes will have any impact as the methods TV Licencing are using to enforce them aren’t particularly robust. If they seriously want consumers to pay for the iPlayer then they're going to have to consider some sort of authentication method, something that was originally proposed in the government's white paper.”

Research conducted by TV Licensing suggests that the service is the most popular catch-up platform used by students, ahead of sites such as YouTube and services including Netflix, but has not released figures for the general populace.

The BBC demonstrated a prototype device last year that allows viewers to control the iPlayer service with the power of their mind. 

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