Ditch the BBC licence fee, over-75s – streaming is better, and cheaper

Michael Hogan
The Night Manager
The Night Manager

After a two-month delay due to some pesky pandemic or other, the BBC is to proceed with its contentious plan to end free TV licences for most over-75s. With an ageing population, the Corporation claims the decision could save it a whopping £1bn per year. 

The news means that more than 3m UK households will be asked to start paying the £157.50 fee from August 1. Only those who receive the Pension Credit benefit will be exempt. The Corporation claims the new scheme was "the fairest decision” but the government maintains it was "the wrong call”, while Age UK called it "a kick in the teeth” after 20 years of free licences.

But do pensioners need the BBC anyway? The subject of the licence fee has become increasingly politicised in recent years. Personally I’d argue that the Corporation’s radio output and local coverage is unparalleled but can you cope without a TV licence? Is there enough quality viewing for over-75s to be found elsewhere? Those who decide against paying will save £13.12 per month, so what else can you get for your money?

It might be time to bust the myth that streaming services are just for younger viewers. In most cases, they’re also cheaper than a licence fee. Young upstarts Disney+ (only good for the grandchildren) and Apple TV+ (still a washout) aren’t currently worth bothering with. Here’s our handy round-up of the rest: 

Netflix

What is it: The market leader among streaming services, although others are catching up. 

Cost: £5.99 to £10.99 per month, depending whether you need high-definition and multiple screens.

What’s on it: Lots. Reams of Netflix content is American rubbish or sub-par films but there’s also quality amid the quantity. Since launching its own original programming in 2013, award-winning dramas include The Crown, Unbelievable, When They See Us, The Sinner, Dark, Dead To Me, Hollywood and the House Of Cards remake. Its documentary output is also impressive, albeit US-skewed - see The Last Dance, Tiger King and Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. There’s lots of true crime, such as Making A Murderer and Unsolved Mysteries.

Olivia Colman in The Crown
Olivia Colman in The Crown

In recent years, Netflix’s original movies have markedly improved, including Oscar nominees The Irishman and Roma. Don’t worry if these titles mean little to you, though. There’s also lots of drama, documentary and comedy from the BBC’s and Channel 4’s back catalogues. 

BritBox

What is it: The home-grown streaming service for British telly.

Cost: £5.99 per month with a free 30-day trial available. 

What’s on it: BritBox has a more limited remit than the global streaming services and doesn’t make its own original programming (yet) but it serves its patriotic niche very well. It brings together old and recent shows from UK broadcasters - meaning the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. So there are all-time greats such as the original House Of Cards, Brideshead Revisited, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Jewel in the Crown, Prime Suspect, Cracker and Our Friends In The North, alongside more recent hits including Downton Abbey, Quiz, Unforgotten, Broadchurch, Gentleman Jack, Call The Midwife and Doctor Foster.

Tom Baker as Doctor Who - BBC
Tom Baker as Doctor Who - BBC

BritBox also an increasing roster of classic films and it’s the place to come for classic Doctor Who, Gerry Anderson and home-grown crime. Its first original commission will be the revival of satirical puppet sketch show Spitting Image. 

Amazon Prime 

What is it: The second biggest global player behind arch rival Netflix.

Cost: Membership is £7.99 per month, which also gives you access to Amazon Music, free priority delivery and all manner of special offers.

What’s on it: A selection as dizzying as Netflix. Not as good for new material but better for old stuff. Amazon’s originals tend not to get the fanfare of their Netflix brethren but there are gems to be found - the likes of Hunters, Star Trek: Picard, The Grand Tour, Goliath, Marvelous Mrs Maisel, The Looming Tower, Little Fires Everywhere, The Man In The High Castle and Bosch.

Mad Men
Mad Men

There are lots of excellent sports, history and crime documentaries but where Amazon truly comes into its own is its archive content. This includes international series (Mad Men, The Americans, This Is Us, House, The Good Wife) and selections from British broadcasters (Normal People, post-reboot Doctor Who, The Night Manager, Fleabag). It’s better for classic films than Netflix and there’s the option to spend more on extra "channels", like the estimable BFI Player.

Now TV

What is it: Sky TV’s no-commitment, no-dish-required streaming service. 

Cost: You buy “passes” divided by subject area, each with their own monthly subscription fee: Sky Cinema (£11.99 per month), Entertainment (£8.99 per month), Sky Sports (£33.99 per month) and Haiyu (£3.99 per month for all the reality TV you can handle). Free seven-day trials are available.

What’s on it: Lots of quality recent programming. That’s because not only does Sky have syndication deals with leading US networks HBO and Showtime, but it’s spending all-time high amounts on its own original productions, like Chernobyl and Gangs of London.

Chernobyl
Chernobyl

Heavyweight American dramas include Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos, Succession and Blue Bloods. There’s content from Sky’s Crime, Comedy, Documentaries and Nature channels, plus vintage British fare from Gold and picks from the History channel. Depending on the pass you get, you can watch Sky channels live as part of your subscription too.

UKTV Play

What is it: The-on demand service owned by UKTV, offering programming from its channels Dave, Drama and Yesterday.

Cost: All programming is free, you just need to register online

Silent Witness
Silent Witness

What’s on it: Purely vintage programming plus a few original commissions. For a free service, though, there’s plenty to choose from. Choose from archive crime drama (New Tricks, Silent Witness, Taggart, Kavanagh QC, Rebus, Dalziel & Pascoe, the early series of The Bill), series you’d sort-of-forgotten (Peak Practice, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, London’s Burning, Lovejoy, Sharpe, Soldier Soldier), classic comedy (To The Manor Born, Red Dawrf, Last Of The Summer Wine, ‘Allo ‘Allo) and factual fare such as The Architecture That Railways Built, Nazi Hunters, Great British Railway Journeys and The World At War. Cosy nostalgia (nearly) guaranteed. 

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