The BBC is to start streaming it's most viewed TV channel - BBC One - on the web. The BBC's on demand catchup service - The iPlayer - has enjoyed enormous success, but programmes can only be viewed streamed or downloaded after they have been shown live - so you don't need a TV licence to use the iPlayer.
To watch any live TV in the UK requires a TV Licence - which currently costs £139.50 a year. A licence is required if you own any TV, set top box or video/ DVD/ or hard drive recorder with a tuner which can receive TV signals. You also need a TV licence to watch live TV on a computer.
But now we can watch BBC One live on the web will every laptop owner also require a TV licence? According to TV licensing - yes. Watching live TV - however you do it, requires a licence. The Licence rules do have some exclusions - but viewing on a computer screen isn't one of them. TVs used in mobile homes and caravans (which are covered by the home licence) and TVs which work solely powered by their own internal battery are the only exemptions (The over 75's get a free licence for their main home and the blind get a 50% reduction).
So what future for the TV licence? The current BBC charter - and hence its funding - is guaranteed until 2016. But 4 years earlier - 2012 is the date when the last analogue TV transmitters will be switched off and viewers will need a TV or set top box with a digital decoder (such as Freeview or a Sky box). By then, if trends continue, a significant proportion of TV viewers will be watching on computer screens.
Policing the licence fee - whether 'its all in the database' or not will soon be impossible. How will the nation's favourite broadcaster be funded in the future? It may be the end for the licence fee - but not the BBC, surely? The Beebs rush to streaming TV on the web may be a mistake...