Do you need a TV licence to watch Netflix?

An estimated 12m more people signed up for a streaming subscription in lockdown

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 01 October 2021 19:58
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There is an ever-growing crowd of streaming providers making competing demands on our attention, from Netflix and Amazon Prime to Apple TV+, Disney Plus and Now TV.

According to Ofcom, the coronavirus pandemic drastically changed our viewing habits, with more than 12 million people signing up for a streaming service having never done so before in response to lockdown.

The average person is meanwhile now estimated to watch 71 minutes of TV online every day.

A possible area of confusion arising from the modern deluge of choice is whether you still need to buy a TV licence to watch these services if you are already paying individual monthly subscription fees to each one.

The answer, according to TV Licensing, is no, you do not need a licence to watch movies and shows from those services but you do if you want to watch any live broadcasting from terrestrial providers like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 or any content from the BBC iPlayer, whose programmes are solely taxpayer-funded and not supported by commercial advertising.

Here’s what the licensing body has to say on the issue in full.

“If you watch TV programmes live on any online TV service, including Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, ITV Hub or All 4, you need to be covered by a TV Licence.

“You don’t need a TV Licence if you only ever use online services to watch on demand or catch up programmes, except if you’re watching BBC programmes on BBC iPlayer.

“Remember, if you watch or record TV programmes live on any channel or TV service, or download or watch any BBC programmes on BBC iPlayer, you need to be covered by a TV Licence.”

A UK licence currently costs £159 a year, which is a little more expensive than the cost of signing up for the big streaming sites.

A standard Netflix or NOW TV membership will currently cost you £9.99 a month (or £119.88 a year), Prime and Disney Plus subscriptions cost £7.99 a month (or £95.88 a year) and Apple TV+ costs £4.99 per month (a comparatively cheap £59.88 a year - and it is free for 12 months if you have recently bought a qualifying Apple device).

However, that licence means you can legally watch all live TV output broadcast in the UK as well as all of the BBC’s iPlayer content, which proved an invaluable resource during lockdown when the corporation brought us such hit shows as Normal People and I May Destroy You, Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympic Games in addition to its rolling 24-hour news coverage and treasure trove of documentaries, comedy programmes and classic Hollywood movies, old and new.

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