I am aware I need a TV licence to watch any live TV (including via the channel’s online catchup service), and I need a TV licence in order to watch any content on iPlayer.

In the answer here: https://law.stackexchange.com/a/53694/628, it’s suggested that some live streams would count as TV.

I am interested as to exactly what counts as live TV. Presumably, a YouTube or Twitch live stream doesn’t count. Does watching a football match on Amazon Prime, or BT Sport, count as live TV? Or if Netflix were to start live streams?


The law says you need to be covered by a TV Licence to:

  • watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV, on any channel
  • watch or stream programmes live on an online TV service (such as ITV Hub, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Sky Go, etc.)
  • download or watch any BBC programmes on iPlayer.

This applies to any device you use, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder.


What is live TV and when do I need a licence for it?

Live TV means any programme you watch or record as it’s being shown on TV or live on any online TV service. It’s not just live events like sport, news and music. It covers all programmes on any channel, including soaps, series, documentaries and even movies. If you’re watching live TV, you need to be covered by a TV Licence:

  • if you’re watching on TV or on an online TV service
  • for all channels, not just the BBC
  • if you record a programme and watch it later
  • if you watch a programme on a delay
  • to watch or record repeats
  • to watch or record programmes on +1, +2 and +24 channels
  • to watch live programmes on Red Button services
  • even if you already pay for cable, satellite or other TV services

From the TV Licensing body.

Basically, if its playing solely because you hit the play button, its not “live TV” and you dont need a license to view it.

If it would be playing at the same time for everyone on a schedule rather than on demand, its live TV. This includes sports on streaming services.

So, a Youtube video you can view at any time is not live TV, but a Youtube video you have to see at a certain time is. A subsequent recording of a live stream that you did not make is not live TV for the purposes of licensing.

A Twitch or Facebook livestream would also require a TV license to view.

  • 1
    Wow! It's slightly scary to realise that you may theoretically require a TV license because a friend is 'going Live' on Facebook (if it's still called that!) Jul 30 '20 at 11:31
  • 2
    I'm in the US, and not subject to these rules. But last night on my computer I watched a live, real-time theatrical reading of a Shakespeare play as a Zoom "webinar" with the acting company scattered around the US and presenting their parts individually from their living rooms. Were I in the UK, I'd need a TV License for this. Jul 30 '20 at 14:34
  • 3
    @NeilTarrant not only is it scary, it’s such an absurd feature of the law that the BBC requires I pay them money in order to consume content on YouTube... I like the content the BBC makes, but golly does there need to be some reform here.
    – Tim
    Jul 30 '20 at 17:15
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    @NeilTarrant thats the broadest interpretation of the requirements certainly - in reality, the TV Licensing authority would probably not bother chasing people for content which isn't mainstream or scheduled. If a market influencer has a scheduled livestream on Facebook, Twitch etc then that would probably be covered, but a friend doing an unscheduled livestream would almost certainly not be.
    – user28517
    Jul 30 '20 at 21:59
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    It's funny because the BBC purport to be an independent broadcasting company, insofar to say that they are not controlled by the government, yet the use the government and its ability to enact laws to force people by law into paying for their broadcasts. It's absolutely absurd. Even more absurd when you find out that the BBC carried out a study to find out what the effects on their revenue would be if they moved to a subscription model and found that they'd lose several tens of millions in revenue. Hence why they never did go to a subscription model.
    – Rstew
    Nov 18 at 0:05

According to the rules Live TV is Live TV if it's broadcast or streamed for an audience to watch at the same time. So technically if I was doing a live stream on Facebook or Youtube of me doing a barbecue for all of my friends or an audience to see as it's being streamed, then yes they would need a TV licence to watch it.

However if I recorded it and uploaded it for people to watch later then its 'on demand' and doesn't need a TV licence.

Does this simplify matters?

  • Are you saying that if you, (who presumably is not BBC), produces a live video, people need a BBC license to view this live stream? Nov 18 at 5:28
  • @Acccumulation that is already the case for other TV channels. The law is non specific, so this answer feels plausible.
    – Tim
    Nov 18 at 9:34

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