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O2 is due to begin trials of broadcasting TV-to-mobiles next month as part of a deal with cableco NTL. Performance testing is due to get underway shortly before 350 punters in Oxford get the chance to view TV on the move from September.

Elsewhere, Virgin kicked off trials of its TV-to-mobile service earlier this month - providing content from Sky Sports News, Sky News and new music channel Blaze - to the handsets of 1,000 London triallists.

While Orange launched its service in May providing punters with an initial line-up of nine channels including ITN News, CNN, Cartoon Network plus "specials" such as Celebrity Love Island and Big Brother.

Question is, do you need a TV licence to watch TV on a handset or is this a loophole created by technological convergence?

According to Orange, you do. A spokeswoman for Orange told us: "Orange TV can be viewed on your handset as long as you have a TV licence for your home TV."

Which is the kind of clear answer that can prove realy helpful, except that it completely at odds with what O2 told us. A spokesman said O2's service is currently being trialled and that a full commercial launch is not due before the end of 2006.

"Regarding the question on whether people would need a TV licence, we don't believe it will be necessary for consumers although we will be clarifying with Ofcom," he said.

So, two different operators, two different answers.

Thankfully, those people at TV Licensing - the group that collects the TV licence fee that funds the BBC in the UK - were able to steer us in the right direction.

The key, it seems, is whether a TV programme is broadcast at the same time as it is becomes available via a mobile handset or on a PC via a broadband connection. If it's not, then no licence is needed. If it is streamed live, or almost live, then it is.

A spokesman for TV Licensing explained: "Anyone who uses or installs television receiving equipment to receive or record television programme services must be covered by a valid TV licence. Mobile phones capable of receiving television programme services live or virtually live would come under the definition of TV receiving equipment.

"So, if you choose to view live or virtually live programmes on emerging technology (eg mobile devices) or on a PC, in essence you are watching the programme at the same time as it is being broadcast throughout the UK, and you are required by law to be covered by a valid TV licence

"However, providing that you have a TV licence for your main address then you will be covered for any television equipment that is powered by its own internal battery. It has been our experience that people who use mobile phones to receive television programme services are likely to already be covered by their existing TV licence."

Which is all well and good, but things are changing - something that's already been acknowledged by the Government.

According to a Green Paper published in March the licence fee could be replaced by a tax on having a PC instead of owning a TV.

For while the government plans to retain the license fee for at least ten years, ministers are looking ahead to a time when high-speed broadband connections routinely deliver digital television channels to the nation's homes.

In that event a fee based on television ownership could become redundant and the government might look at other ways to raise revenue, from subscriptions to taxing other access devices.

Indeed, the whole area of "Digital multimedia platforms" is something regulator Ofcom is due to look at over the next year or so. It wants to understand "likely developments in digital platforms and services and produces a framework to address the emerging policy challenges, including content delivery across different platforms, business models and consumer demand".

And that means how viewers pay to watch TV - be it on the gogglebox, PC, mobile or some other gadget. ®

Related stories

Telewest trials webcast TV
Virgin trials mobile TV
3G TV: too little, too soon
Orange pushes TV on 3G display
O2 trials mobile TV
PC tax could replace TV licence

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