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Why is televison costiong me so much?

February 2018

I don’t watch much television, so why is it that I am paying over £600 each year to do so?  It’s all rather crept up on me, but I believe it’s because I watch very little in the way we used to.

Our first television set arrived in 1958 along with my younger sister (they were delivered in different ways), and of course in those days and for the next twenty-five years or so, the only way to watch a specific programme was to settle down in front of the TV at precisely the same time as millions of others around the country.  If you were late, they wouldn’t wait; if the phone rang in the middle of Morecambe & Wise, pausing the transmission was impossible.  In the 1980s the VHS recorder improved things a bit, but you still frequently ended up with 90 minutes of snooker when you meant to record Brideshead Revisited.

It’s all different nowadays, of course; almost everything I watch is through the internet and at a time I pick, be it from the BBC, ITV, Netflix, NowTV (Sky), BT Sport or Amazon.  The only TV I watch using the aerial in the attic is live sport and the news, but I’m even inclined to watch the news via the internet, because I can finish what I’m doing and start watching it at 10:15 pm.  This is one the best features of the BBC iPlayer; one is no longer a slave to the clock, and can watch a programme from the start even after it has started. 

So, even though I don’t watch much television, when I recently reviewed my Direct Debits I was unnerved to discover that I am paying over £600 every year for these services through a mix of monthly subscriptions and the TV Licence. 

Add to this what I pay to Spotify for music streaming and the bill grows still more; include what the internet itself costs and we are heading towards £1,250 each year; that’s real money.  And what have I got show for it all at the end of twelve months?  Nothing at all apart from a few memories of some dramas I regretted watching. 

It’s all part of a growing trend not to allow us to own anything, but insist that we rent it.  This is an inevitable consequence of the growth in online services; I do my accounts that way, I’m listening to music from Spotify as I write this; my Microsoft software is rented; my online backup has an annual charge, as do a few other cloud-based gadgets I use to make life easier.   

None of them charges me very much and it means that I am always using the latest, most fault-free version of whatever it is, and someone else has to keep it working.  But it adds up the overall cost is rising, and as the years pass one naturally seeks to reduce one’s monthly payments, or at least I do.

I have said many times in these pages there really is nothing new under the sun.  Paying a subscription for access to a service is hardly new, and in that sense Netflix and the rest are doing no more than the National Trust, the RSPB or the Royal Academy have always done.

So, here’s an idea for Netflix and the others: why not copy those well-established business models in full and offer some life memberships? 

Clubs and Societies often do this very successfully; the going rate seems to be about twenty times the annual subscription.  Limit the offer to older subscribers if you like, and in return for handing over the lump sum, we would be insulated from inflation, and perhaps having to make unwelcome retrenchments in later life.  Everybody wins.