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Poll: UK viewers reject “rip off” retrans charges

UK TV viewers have labelled proposals to introduce new charges to transmit free-to-air public service broadcaster ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 programmes over pay-TV networks a new TV tax and a “rip off”, according to a new survey.

In a survey into the proposed charges commissioned by UK quad-play operator Virgin Media, 73 per cent of people said the plans for retransmission fees would amount to a new tax on watching TV. After reading more about the tax, 72 per cent said the new charge would be a “bad idea”.

Government proposals

The survey of 2,001 people comes as UK commercial public service broadcasters (PSBs) are calling for the introduction of retransmission fees. This would be a charge to carry their programmes, levied on pay-TV providers.

Earlier in the 2015, the UK Government held a public consultation on plans to introduce the fees, with a decision expected at the end of the year. Recent reports also suggest that the Government is seeking to repeal Section 73 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, which would open the door for retransmission fees on cable companies only.

Increased costs for viewers 

According to survey, the introduction of fees would mean increased costs for TV viewers: 77 per cent of people believe that pay-TV providers would cover the retransmission charge by raising the price of TV packages. This would come in addition to the significant advertising revenues these commercial PSBs accrue by virtue of their prominent position on pay-TV platforms such as Virgin Media providing free access to tens of millions of viewers.

Change in channel listings

Commercial negotiations between the PSBs and pay-TV providers may result in the channels pushed lower down in the TV menus (electronic programming guides). Instead of slots 3,4 and 5 they could move to 59 or 148, for example. When asked about this potential change, more than three-quarters of people (77 per cent) said they would prefer these channels to stay in slots 3, 4 and 5.

The survey also shows that a third of people said they would be less likely to watch ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 if they were lower down the programming guide. A loss in viewership could lead to a decline in advertising revenues for these broadcasters, undermining the limited financial benefits to come from a retransmission fee.

Double payment

When asked about the extra income this fee would bring to commercial PSBs, 76 per cent of TV viewers did not see the need to pay extra when commercial broadcasters already earn money from advertisements, with 71 per cent labelling this double payment a “rip off”. Instead, two-thirds of people said that commercial PSBs should focus on getting more viewers so they can make more money from advertisements rather than introducing new charges.

Fee would be used to prop up profits

If the fee was introduced, then two-thirds of people said that commercial broadcasters should significantly reduce the amount of TV advertising. Some 63 per cent believe that commercial PSBs are looking to introduce these fees as a way to increase their profit margins.

“Retransmission fees are just a fancy term for a TV tax – a tax on programming that people already pay for through their subscriptions and through the large amounts of advertising they see between programmes,” asserted Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media. “TV viewers have given a resounding thumbs-down to the idea. The Government must take note.”



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