British broadcasting giants ITV and the BBC are teaming up to create “BritBox”, in an apparent bid to create a UK rival to Netflix.
The BBC and ITV announced on Feb 27 that they are in the final phase of talks to establish a partnership to launch BritBox in the UK in the second half of the year. Now working on a formal legal agreement, the two companies said the service will be priced "competitively" without providing any further details.
BritBox launched in the U.S. in 2017 with partner AMC Networks and has since also become available in Canada, having crossed the 500,000 subscriber mark.
As audiences increasingly 'cut the cord' with expensive pay-TV packages and form new viewing habits based on instantly binge-watching streaming content, the streamers are eating into the market share of traditional broadcasters.
Back in 2007, British regulators squashed a proposal by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to start a streaming service called Project Kangaroo, on concerns it would stifle competition. The service which would offer the combined content libraries of all three broadcasters could have proved a hugely successful venture at a time when Netflix was still emerging and available only in America.
Now with Netflix crossing 10m subscribers in Britain, and Amazon already at 5m subs, the competition concerns have all but disappeared. The challenge for BritBox will be if it can find a way to compete on a fraction of the massive budgets of the global streaming players.
However, ITV CEO Carolyn McCall said in a call with reporters that the service will focus on content for local consumption and is not designed to go head to head with Netflix and Amazon. "We have never said that this is the British equivalent of Netflix. Netflix is global, it commissions globally," while BritBox will commission for local audiences, she said.
ITV has said it will bankroll the venture with up to £65m over the next two years, but publicly funded BBC has not disclosed its level of investment. Despite the advertising hit from the streaming disruption, ITV reported revenue total rising by 3%, thanks mainly to ITV Studios up by 6 per cent to 1.7 billion pounds, demonstrating the value of premium content production and licensing.
"ITV Studios continued to show good growth, producing a range of great shows including The Voice, Bodyguard, Love Island and a host of other hits," McCall said on the call.
The decision is likely to mean the two British broadcasters will stop licensing their content catalogue to services like Netflix in a bid to drive subscribers to the new UK service. The companies said Britbox will offer a mix of newly commissioned shows and classic programs, as both broadcasters look to take advantage of their impressive back catalogues.
The BBC director general, Tony Hall, said BritBox will offer a "truly special" service to the British public. “A new streaming service delivering the best homegrown content to the public who love it best,” he said. “The service will have everything from old favourites to recent shows and brand new commissions. It’s an exciting time for the viewing public.”