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BBC delays TV license fees for those over 75; commissions two access-driven docuseries

British pubcaster the BBC has unveiled that it will delay its planned license television fees for viewers 75 years of age and older due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The BBC had ...
March 16, 2020

British pubcaster the BBC has unveiled that it will delay its planned license television fees for viewers 75 years of age and older due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The BBC had planned to implement charges for TV licenses that would cost British seniors £157.50 ($193.95) from June 1 onward. The British network had previously not charged pensioners a fee to access the channel.

Changes to the controversial charge have now been pushed back to August 1 due to concerns that elderly and vulnerable viewers could be without vital information in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic.

“The BBC’s priority over the coming period will be to do everything we can to serve the nation at this uniquely challenging time,” the BBC said in a statement. “As the national broadcaster, the BBC has a vital role to play in supplying information to the public in the weeks and months ahead.

“Recognizing the exceptional circumstances, the BBC board has therefore decided to change the start date of the new policy. Our current plan is to now bring it into place on August 1. We will of course keep the issue under review as the situation continues to evolve.”

David Clementi, chairman of the BBC, said: “The BBC board has decided to delay changes to over 75s license fees. We are in exceptional circumstances. Now is not the right time. We are fully focused on delivering our services to the public at this difficult time.”

Oliver Dowden, culture secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport added: “I am pleased the BBC has worked with us and agreed to delay their license fee changes for over 75s from coming in and will keep this under review. It will be welcome news to millions of older people who now don’t need to worry about their TV licence during this challenging period. It is right that the BBC have recognized the exceptional circumstances posed by the Coronavirus outbreak and the need for the whole country to pull together in the national effort.”

In related news, the UK broadcaster has commissioned two documentary series slated to provide unprecedented access into the lives of the world’s “super-rich”.

Produced by London-based factual specialist Summer Films, The Countess and the Russian Billionaire (pictured) will paint an intimate portrait Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev – a former member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle – and his British partner Countess Alexandra Tolstoy. The Russian entrepreneur and investor had amassed a fortune worth $15 billion by owning one of the country’s largest private banks, shipyards, a coal mine and designer brands until he fell out of favor with Putin.

The 1 x 60-minute special was filmed between the UK, France and Russia, and seeks to tell the story of Pugachev and Tolstoy’s romance and great wealth. The film will also document the threats to Pugachev’s empire from the Russian government that have caused him to flee to a chateau in France while leaving Tolstoy with their children in London.

The Countess and the Russian Billionaire is executive produced and directed by Summer Films’ Lucy Hillman and Sam Whittaker. It was commissioned by BBC’s Clare Sillery, head of factual commissioning. The commissioning editor is Emma Loach.

The three-part Inside Monaco, meanwhile, will provide an insider’s look into the grand and glitzy events that take place within the borders of Monaco, a sovereign city-state, country, and microstate on the French Riviera.

Filmed over a season of such glamorous events as the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Red Cross Ball and the international yacht show, the multi-part series will examine the legacy that Prince Albert – one of the wealthiest royals in the world with assets valued at more than $1 billion – inherited from his parents Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.

The series will also document the modern-day Head of State as he navigates the challenges of ensuring Monaco remains a relevant destination to today’s wealthiest individuals.

Inside Monaco is produced by Spun Gold Television and Whisper Films. The 3 x 60-minute series is exec produced by Bridget Boseley and Jonathan Smith for Spun Gold and Sunil Patel and Richard Gort for Whisper. Michael Waldman directs.

It was commissioned by BBC’s Sillery with Loach as commissioning editor.

“Both these documentaries promise the very best filmmaking, engaging with worlds that often hide themselves from view,” said BBC2 controller Patrick Holland in a statement. “It’s great to have such exclusive and hard-won access on the channel.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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