A survey by the UK's incumbent cable provider Virgin Media has shown marked resistance among viewers for US-style retransmission charges levied by UK commercial public service broadcasters (PSBs).
The survey of 2,001 people in the UK labelled proposals to introduce new charges levied on pay-TV providers to transmit ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 programmes over pay-TV networks (such as Virgin's) as a new TV tax and a "rip off". Nearly three-quarters said the plans for retransmission fees would amount to a new tax on watching TV, and after reading more about the tax a similar percentage said the new charge would be a "bad idea".
The survey also indicated that viewers worried that such increased costs would be passed on to them. Indeed 77% of people believe that pay-TV providers would cover the retransmission charge by raising the price of TV packages.
The background to the survey is the decision taken earlier in 2015 by the UK Government to hold a public consultation on plans to introduce the fees. More worryingly for Virgin Media, recent reports have suggested that the UK Government is seeking to repeal Section 73 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988which would open the door for retransmission fees on cable companies only.
Virgin added that such fees would come in addition to the significant advertising revenues that the commercial PSBs could receive from their prominent position on the EPGs of pay-TV platforms such as its own that provide free access to tens of millions of viewers. When asked about this potential change, more than three-quarters of people (77%) said they would prefer these channels to stay in their prominent slots.
When asked about the extra income this fee would bring to commercial PSBs, 76% of TV viewers did not see the need to pay extra when commercial broadcasters already earn money from advertisements, with 71% labelling this double payment a rip off. 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.
"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," said Virgin Media CEO Tom Mockridge. "TV viewers have given a resounding thumbs-down to the idea. The government must take note."