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Culture secretary to close BBC ‘iPlayer loophole’

BBCUK culture secretary John Whittingdale has vowed to close the “iPlayer loophole”, which allows non-licence fee payers to access the online catch-up service for free.

Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention yesterday, Whittingdale said that he will bring in legislation to extend the licence fee to cover catch-up, as well as live linear, content “as soon as practicable”.

“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,” said Whittingdale.

The new legislation, which will apply to the existing licence fee arrangement, follows an agreement between the government and the BBC in July to update the rules in relation to the iPlayer.

Whittingdale said that every media business, not just the BBC, being affected by the digital revolution and that unless consumers pay for products and services like video, music and games, “those industries may not survive”.

Speaking about the media sector more broadly, Whittingdale claimed that “the newspaper, music, film and games industry are all having to adapt to a world in which consumers are no longer as willing to pay as their parents were.”

“In almost every case, advertising revenue now plays an essential part in their new business models. And so I completely understand the concern that a lot of people have expressed to me about the expansion of ad-blockers,” he said.

The culture secretary said ad blockers posed a similar threat today to online copyright infringement by illegal file-sharing or pirate sites ten years ago.

“Mobile phone manufacturers are now integrating ad blocking features into their browsers. And ISPs are beginning to do the same as they see it as a way of saving money by freeing up capacity on their networks. Meanwhile, some of the ad-blocking companies are drawing up their own rules of acceptable advertising or offering to white list providers in return for payment. Many see such practices as akin to a modern day protection racket,” said Whittingdale.

The comments in the same week that new research by the Internet Advertising Bureau claimed that some 22% of online British adults currently use ad-blocking software – up from 18% in October 2015.