Market Insight

Nordic public broadcasters begin TV licence clampdown for online viewers

January 25, 2013

Martyn Hannant Martyn Hannant Manager – Research and Analysis, Service Providers & Platforms

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Swedish public broadcaster SVT is to require households watching its channels on computers and tablets to pay a television licence fee. The public broadcaster has announced its intentions to make its full range of national channel available to stream live through its existing SVT Play service from February 2013, which has highlighted the need for those using streaming as their primary method of watching the channels to pay a licence fee. According to licence fee collection and enforcement organisation Radiotjänst, the requirements will apply to computers and tablets, but not smart phones, since it believes a household is less likely to use mobile phones as its primary method of watching SVT's channels. The licence fee in Sweden is currently SEK 2,076 (€239) per year.

Finnish public broadcaster YLE has announced similar intentions to provide its channels online by the end of the year, and as of this year funds its programming through a public service broadcasting tax as opposed to licence fees. The tax ranges from €50 to €140 per year, depending on income. The previous YLE licence fee was €252.25 per year in 2012. 

The move by SVT is most likely to be targeted at those households substituting linear TV for OTT (over-the-top) services, a move that may be more prevalent in Sweden where Summer-home ownership is high. In 2011, the number of paying TV households stood at 3,469,000 in Sweden. IHS Screen Digest estimates this as 75 per cent of Swedish TV households. The new licence fee requirement will help avoid future losses coming from those households that do decide to exclusively watch TV on-line, and will act as a disincentive for households doing this to evade licence fees. However, there will be limited room for growth in licence fee revenue from on-line-only households without a television set, since Sweden has a TV household penetration of 98.2 per cent. In addition to this, IHS Screen Digest estimates that 0.09% of TV viewing per person in Sweden is via on-line TV, which downplays the extent to which Swedish households are exclusively viewing TV on-line, at least at present.

Despite the relative lack of on-line TV viewing in Sweden, TV viewing habits are changing all around Europe, and OTT services can provide an additional stream of funds for programming. For example, in France 15 per cent of the videos of M6 - one of the main French broadcasters, were consumed through tablets and smart phones, and for BBC iPlayer in the UK, tablets and smart phones accounted for approximately of 29 per cent of requests in December 2012. SVT and YLE in Finland are not the first broadcasters to acknowledge the presence of on-line TV. For example, a licence fee across all media has been put into place by DR in Denmark, and the BBC does stipulate that an individual watching TV as it is broadcast on any device is expected to be covered by a TV licence. The switch of funding from licence fee to tax by YLE is a particularly interesting move, since it provides a way of reducing licence fee evasion by households. The revenue from this may be partially reliant on individuals' income, but it does allow for maximisation of the number of households paying for public broadcasting, and is relatively easier to enforce.  

Whichever form public broadcast funding takes, the increase of revenue from on-line viewers paying licence fees is likely to be limited for countries with high TV penetration rates and low licence fee evasion rates. The future of public broadcasting in relation to on-line TV as it is broadcast will depend on whether on-line TV becomes a complement or a substitute for traditional TV, and also on the cost for the broadcaster of distributing public service channels on-line. This in turn will depend on the total amount of demand for on-line TV viewing in the country.

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