Keira Knightley 'hounded' by TV licence collectors

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Actress Keira Knightley has complained that she was repeatedly challenged by television licence collectors, despite not owning a television.

The star says that her busy schedule meant that for a long time she barely knew where she was likely to be. Instead of buying a television, therefore, she watched catch-up services such as iPlayer on other devices.

But despite this, she tells the Sunday Telegraph's Stella magazine, "I got hounded by the TV licence people. I'm like, 'I don't have a f****** TV licence because I don't have a TV! Please come in and see that I don't have one!'"

Eventually, a love of live football led the actress to buy a television - and a licence. But her experience highlights the controversy over how, in the days of online viewing, the BBC should be funded.

The price of the licence fee has since 2010 been frozen at £145.50. But director general Tony Hall has suggested that it should, from 2020 onwards, be pegged to inflation. In a statement, the corporation scotched claims in the Sunday Times that a report it had commissioned on funding recommended moving to subscription services instead.

"The report recommends that the BBC pursue an inflationary licence fee increase with greater commercial revenue," it says. "No subscription model is recommended."

The problem for the BBC is that the licence fee is only payable if a person is watching live programmes on a television set. Watching catch-up TV, either on a device such as a laptop or tablet or on a television itself, is exempt.

And, increasingly, viewers are taking Knightley's lead and doing without a television altogether. While research from TV marketing body Thinkbox shows that only 1.5 percent of TV is watched on a laptop or similar device in the UK, this figure is growing fast, up 25 percent on last year.

Elsewhere, it's becoming the norm. In the US, for example, a recent survey by market researchers Nielsen found that 51 percent of people watch TV on laptops, 49 percent on an Apple iPad, 37 percent on a tablet computer and 42 percent on a smartphone.

With a subscription model ruled out, the BBC has a number of options. If a link with inflation is refused, the licence fee could be extended to cover catch-up services as well. It's also been suggested that the corporation could come out of public ownership altogether and be turned into a mutual, owned by its users. Most radical of all is the proposal by presenter Noel Edmonds that the BBC be sold off altogether - to him and a group of other investors.

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