The BBC and ITV have confirmed that they have agreed a “joint vision” for a Netflix-style streaming service in the UK called BritBox.
The platform promises the biggest collection of British TV content ever assembled in one place, as well as new commissions specifically tailored for the service.
So far Channel 4 is not part of the enterprise, although it was understood to have been involved in the early stages of talks.
Here’s everything you need to know…
What is BritBox?
Launching as a joint venture between ITV and the BBC, the UK-based pay streaming service will provide access to archive British TV shows and will commission new programmes. BritBox already exists in the US and is said to have exceeded expectations there, currently boasting over half a million subscribers.
According to ITV CEO Carolyn McCall, “BritBox will be the home for the best of British creativity – celebrating the best of the past, the best of today and investing in new British originated content in the future.”
BBC Director General Tony Hall, meanwhile, describes it as: “a new streaming service delivering the best home-grown content to the public who love it best. The service will have everything from old favourites to recent shows and brand new commissions.”
When does BritBox launch?
At this stage, there’s no definitive launch date for the service but the BBC and ITV say it will be available at some point in the second half of 2019.
How much will BritBox cost? How can I get it?
Customers will have to pay for BritBox but neither the BBC nor ITV have given details of pricing, beyond promising that it will be “competitive”. Some reports suggest it will cost around £5 a month but this has not been confirmed.
If you are interested in the service up you can visit the BritBox website and sign up to get the latest news and updates in the run up to it going live.
What will BritBox show? Will it affect current services like BBC iPlayer?
BritBox will feature an archive of British shows plus new commissions made for the service – a mixture of genres in all likelihood. The BBC and ITV say it will not affect the way their catch-up services BBC iPlayer and the ITV Hub operate as BritBox will not have access to the current or recently aired shows the existing services carry. New shows are likely to move on to BritBox only after they have been made available on catch-up first.
The decision does mean that British broadcasters are likely to stop licensing their archive material to other streaming services such as Netflix in an attempt to drive subscribers to the new UK service. However, the full details will be confirmed when both ITV and the BBC finalise their formal legal agreement.
I already pay the BBC a licence fee, why should I pay again?
BritBox will not take any money from the licence fee to pay for its set up or to make its new programmes, and by making older archive shows available it is providing a new service to anything that exists. However, there may be questions ahead about the implications of BritBox and the BBC potentially vying for new show ideas, the same production talent and so on.
How much money are the BBC and ITV putting in to BritBox?
ITV has pledged to invest up to £65m in the joint venture over the next two years. The BBC has not commented on how much money it is ploughing in.
Why is this happening now?
All UK broadcasters are very nervous about the market power of Amazon and Netflix. There is also growing demand in the UK for such streaming services, with more than 12 million households signed up to at least one. Meanwhile, research commissioned by ITV shows that desire for UK-produced content is high, with 43% of all online homes interested in subscribing to a new service which features British shows. This increases to over 50% in homes that already have a Netflix subscription.
Haven’t we been here before?
Yes. BritBox is highly reminiscent of a scheme devised more than a decade ago called Project Kangaroo. Like the new plan, Kangaroo was a proposed video-on-demand service from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 but was strangled at birth in 2007. After two years of wrangling, the Competition Commission ruled that the project was too much of a threat to the UK VOD market and it was scuppered. So what’s changed?
In recent months, there have been positive soundings from the regulators and broadcasting watchdog Ofcom that they would now be amenable to the new service, no doubt at least partly due to the proliferation of streaming services since the idea was last mooted. And while formal approval will be required from the Competition Commission and Ofcom, this is unlikely to be a problem.
What are the challenges for BritBox?
There are many, and experts are divided over the likely success of the new service. BritBox will be facing established competitors Netflix, which launched in the UK in 2012, and Amazon which rebranded its video service LoveFilm as Amazon Prime Video in 2014.
Netflix signed up 125 million subscribers globally over seven years – can BritBox hope to emulate that scale? No one UK player is powerful enough on its own which is why public service broadcasters in Britain need to put aside their differences and work in unison. The absence of Channel 4 and Sky in this deal could be an issue. And that’s even before we ask whether cash-strapped British consumers, who are already spending elsewhere, are prepared to fork out for yet another TV streaming subscription…
Will Channel 4 or any other broadcasters join BritBox?
Channel 4 and US studio NBC Universal were involved in the earlier stages of talks about the service. It is not yet clear whether Channel 4 will join BritBox service because the broadcaster faces trickier challenges over rights issues when it comes to streaming content.
Channel 4 is a publisher-broadcaster and the rights to its shows are controlled by its many suppliers, the leading independent producers whose dynamism is due in large measure to the fact that they can strike such lucrative deals and retain control over their intellectual property. The BBC, however, makes much of its content via BBC Studios, as does ITV with ITV Studios.
Channel 4 was also believed to be anxious about playing the role of junior partner in the new service.
The BBC and ITV will provide a further update about BritBox when a formal agreement is reached.