Do you need a TV licence to watch Netflix? BBC sends mixed signals as streamer launches live shows

Netflix is gradually showing more and more live content (Ian West/PA Archive)
Netflix is gradually showing more and more live content (Ian West/PA Archive)

Netflix’s big push into live television could result in massive fines of up to £1,000 for Brits caught off-guard without a TV licence.

The streaming service is poised to ring the bell on its splashiest live event to date: a high-profile boxing match between Youtuber Jake Paul and former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, and customers will surely need a TV licence to tune in to the bout.

Well, it is not that clear cut, as the Standard recently found out. While the BBC told us (and Cord Busters) that a TV licence is indeed required to watch live content on Netflix, that doesn’t match its messaging to customers.

In fact, the Beeb’s TV licence customer support staff are unaware of the change. When we rang up, we were told that a TV licence wasn’t required to watch Netflix, and any reports claiming that Netflix contained live programming were false.

The contradictory statements suggest the BBC is in danger of being caught flat-footed as Netflix, the world’s biggest streamer, ramps up its live offering. Any lapse on the broadcaster’s part could affect the throngs of Brits without a TV licence, many of them younger viewers raised on a steady diet of YouTube, Netflix and TikTok.

Jake Paul vs Mike Tyson will air live on Netflix on July 20 (Netflix)
Jake Paul vs Mike Tyson will air live on Netflix on July 20 (Netflix)

A record 2.84 million people stopped paying the annual fee last year because they do not watch BBC channels or any kind of live TV. The latest figure marked an increase of more than 360,000 on the previous 12 months.

The government has recently raised the licence fee to £169.50, an increase of 6.7 per cent, in line with inflation, and that could go up even further this year.

Live events are becoming a bigger focus for Netflix. The streaming service previously aired a Chris Rock comedy special, a golf tournament featuring Formula One stars and PGA Tour pros, and an exhibition tennis match between Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal. Already this year it has announced a live comedy with Tom Brady, a deal to broadcast weekly live WWE wrestling shows and a six-night live comedy event with US comic John Mulaney.

Of course, Netflix has its reasons for introducing live programming: As a public company, it’s beholden to Wall Street and its insatiable desire for growth. Massive sport events like the Paul against Tyson fight bring in bigger advertisers for its ad-supported subscription plan. The Standard has asked Netflix for comment.

Rival Amazon has previously struck rights deals for live footy matches with the Premier League, and it’s probably only a matter of time till Netflix hunts bigger catch, too.

For Brits who have ditched the aerial, that means forking out more cash for a TV licence on top of their subscription or missing out on the action.