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BBC, ITV prep ‘transformational’ streamer

UK viewers are to be offered a local rival to Netflix after pubcaster the BBC and commercial operator ITV confirmed plans to launch a streamer together.

Carolyn McCall

The two organisations have been discussing a joint service for several years but today confirmed they are in the “concluding phase of talks” to establish a “transformational” streamer to be known as BritBox, which will launch in the second half of the year.

It will offer the “biggest collection” of British content available on any streaming service, ITV and the BBC said, adding that originals specifically for BritBox would also be ordered from UK production companies.

The UK-facing service will offer “an unrivalled collection of British boxsets and original series,” the broadcasters said, revealing details of the service on the same day that ITV unveiled its annual results. Profits for 2018 were up 13% to £567m (US$750m).

ITV and the BBC’s commercial arm BBC Studios (BBCS) already operate an international version of BritBox, which was launched with AMC Networks in 2017 and offers an array of UK content and original programming to more than 500,000 subscribers in the US and Canada.

Legal formalities are now being worked out, with BBCS and ITV “anticipating that other partners will be added to BritBox and both will speak to regulators and the wider industry about their proposals.” ITV said it planned to spend £25m on the project this year and £40m in 2020, while BBCS’s backing is yet to be revealed.

The BBC and ITV, along with fellow UK pubcaster Channel 4, previously tried to launch a similar catch-up service almost a decade ago, known as Project Kangaroo. However the venture was scrapped after the UK’s Competition Commission blocked it, ruling the project threatened the UK’s fledgling VoD market.

Carolyn McCall, CEO of ITV, said BritBox would become “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.”

Tony Hall

BBC director general Tony Hall added that the service would offer “the best home-grown content to the public who love it best” and allow viewers to watch “everything from old favourites to recent shows and brand new commissions.”

McCall, talking to the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, said it would “mean there is one permanent, comprehensive home where anyone in Britain can get all of our library content – both ITV’s and the BBC’s. It is a fantastic proposition.”

She added that ITV would “honour” existing agreements with those it had sold its programming to but wanted to make the new service the home of UK shows.

Both ITV and the BBC have previously sold swathes of their programming to third-party streamers in the UK, including shows such as Doctor Who, Peaky Blinders and Luther as well as classic comedies such as Only Fools & Horses to Netflix.

However, both now face increasing pressure from streamers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, particularly among younger viewers.

The cost of the forthcoming service has not yet been revealed but was said to be “competitive” and is expected to be around £5 per month.

The BBC has enjoyed huge success with its iPlayer streaming service while ITV has been rapidly expanding its on-demand offering recently, launching its “more than TV‘ strategy last year and offering an ad-free ITVHub+ service, which costs £3.99 a month.

ITV and the BBC have also enjoyed success with North American streamer BritBox, which unveiled its first original drama, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, produced by ITV-backed World Productions and Canuck firm Omnifilm, in 2017. Further international expansion of that service is also planned.

Revealing details of the UK-facing streamer, ITV and the BBC cited “growing consumer demand” in the UK for its streaming services and said research commissioned by the commercial broadcaster suggested that 43% of all online homes were interested in subscribing to a new SVoD service that features British content. That figure increased to over 50% in homes with a Netflix subscription, the broadcasters said.


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