It’s been 12 years since the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 first announced their intention to work together on a video on demand service. Project Kangaroo, as it was known, was designed to serve the changing TV market by offering “a rich entertainment site” that offered free, rental and buy-to-own digital content – so far, so 2007. The idea was blocked by the Competition Commission in 2009 and ended up spinning off into a variety of other ventures, including Project Canvas, which turned into YouView.
Back then the broadcasting world was a very different place. The Kangaroo idea was bold and adventurous – and possibly to many, in a linear television dominated world with patchy broadband, could have been seen as unnecessary.
Fast forward to 2019, as BritBox enters the UK television market and the landscape couldn’t be more different. Multi-national streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon and Apple are spending billions of dollars on content and smart technology to fight for our eyeballs, iPlayer is receiving tens of millions of requests per day – and that’s before Disney+ hits our screens with HBO and Warner about to flex their streaming muscles across the pond.
Against this backdrop, Britbox is a very different beast from Kangaroo – less a bold leap into the digital unknown, and more a necessity for the traditional broadcasters to control the distribution of their content.
With BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 on board, beloved archive content is certainly something that this service isn’t short of – from Fawlty Towers and Broadchurch to Life on Mars and Only Fools and Horses British TV fans could easily lose themselves in this veritable treasure trove of nostalgia (and competitors like Netflix, who have up until now had some of these shows in their own archives, will lose them).
But the broadcasters know for this service to be relevant and for people to pay £5.99 a month, it needs more than just a trip down memory lane (it has some of the Carry On films too by the way), it needs to be a living breathing and constantly updating portal of the best of British.
This they hope to achieve by adding a rolling content-base of the best shows they are producing for the main channels after they leave the free-to-air catch-up services, acquisitions (they have Australian dystopian drama Lambs of God on launch day), and exclusive made-for-Britbox content (like Netflix Originals) that we are yet to see.
As the streaming wars intensify and more services launch, there is no doubt the number of entertainment subscriptions consumers are willing to take up (and maintain) will be tested. However good the content, will TV fans be prepared to pay Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, NOW TV, AppleTV+, YouTube Premium and BritBox as well as the license fee and potentially a cable or satellite provider too?
When you boil it down, BritBox is a very British streaming service from some very trusted names in broadcasting with both heritage and programming pedigree in their blood.
Could this be enough to part consumers with six quid a month? The more it develops, the more I can’t help but think it might just work.
In the British market the traditional broadcasters are still programming heavyweights, producing vast amounts of celebrated shows day in day out, with an enviable back catalogue that’s going nowhere.
If content is king, it’s hard to see how BritBox is going to do anything but become more regal over time as BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 continue to add new content to the service and the broadcasters will be hoping this translates into subscriptions. Only time will tell.
But one thing’s for sure, this revolution will be televised.
A BritBox subscription, which includes multi-screen viewing and HD, is available at a monthly cost of £5.99