‘We're not competing with other streaming services’ – ITV and BBC chiefs on BritBox UK

‘We are not in competition with other streaming services’ – ITV and BBC chiefs lay bare their plans for new streaming service

Ahead of the UK launch of BritBox, the BBC and ITV's content streaming service, the chiefs of the rival broadcasters have come together to explain how they plan to make it a commercial success.

The service, which is set to feature shows such as Downton Abbey, Victoria, Luther and Doctor Who, will cost £5.99 per month when it enters the market in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Both the BBC's iPlayer and ITV Player will continue to operate. Content on BritBox will be appear only after it has been featured on the broadcasters' respective catch-up services. In the case of the BBC, this will be one year after it is first broadcast live.

Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, defended the move and denied it meant the British public would be paying for content twice – first through the mandatory payment of the license fee, then through subscrption – by comparing the project to purchasing DVDs.

“That was the BBC saying this is a secondary market and you pay for content if you want it,” he said, adding that the supplemental revenue made from BritBox would go back into the creation and purchasing of new content by the broadcaster.

“It’s a win all around for the licence fee payers,” he stated.

International learnings

Discussing how the joint venture has grown since its initial launch in the US and Canada, Carolyn McCall, ITV’s chief executive, revealed it had proven easier to make happen outside of Britain. BritBox currently reports more than 650,000 subscribers.

BritBox UK, however, will be treated as "a separate entity" and registered as a different company, she explained.

“There’s quite a lot of best-practice and learning that we will take," said McCall. "ITV is involved at a very senior level in both, and has the same ambition for both BritBox UK and for the more global nature of the US and Canada.

"[BritBox UK] is aimed at British consumers and that is what we know very well. It’s a different proposition in the US and Canada."

McCall was enthusiastic regarding the brand's potential to establish itself as a serious player in the streaming market, claiming it was a “significant” offering. She confirmed there are no intentions for advertising to be introduced on the platform.

“When you go into streaming, one of the things you are paying for is to have a different kind of experience to a commercial TV station," she explained. "That is our view at the moment.”

As to how BritBox will fit into the already competitive streaming landscape, McCall was confident that British viewers wanted to watch original homemade programming found exclusively in one place.

“What is on Netflix will not be on BritBox, what is on Disney will not be on BritBox and what is on BritBox will not be on those services," she said. "We are not doing what Netflix does. It is totally complementary and therefore, in some households, they will take additional subscriptions. In other households, they will weigh [the options] up, cancel [other services] and take this instead.

“44% of households in the UK have subscribed or are likely to subscribe to a new subscription service that has got British content. In Netflix subscriber homes ... one in two [consumers] say they would take a service with British content. That’s the gap in the market and that’s the gap we are filling – we are not in competition with other streaming services."

Data of one's own

Leading the launch in the UK is Reemah Sakaan who was previously vice-president of creative and editorial at BritBox US and Canada.

She explained the learnings from other services that have been taken on board before rolling out the platform.

“We know a lot about what works across our various pay and on-demand platforms and through our programmes on Netflix and the broader streaming ecology," Sakaan said. "We already get some information on that, but it’s never as good as if you own it yourself.

"That’s what we’re about doing – taking learnings on subscriber management and how streaming has worked in the US has been really informative to us in terms of how we structure and move into this new business area. It’s a combination of touch points.”

Meanwhile, McCall added her own interest in a pay-to-play streaming offer came from witnessing a certain viewing culture emerge from Netflix.

“What was very interesting to us about Netflix ... was how many people are actually in Netflix for the archive of old shows, and actually their Originals are to get new subscribers. The library content is what people actually view on Netflix, but the new content is all about customer acquisition.

"That’s a big learning for us and of course we have a big library between the BBC and ITV – but how we create and present that library and how we offer that to consumers if going to be an important part of what we have learned.”

In reaction to the launch, Luke Bozeat, chief operating officer at MediaCom UK was welcoming.

“The BBC and ITV’s new streaming venture is a positive and necessary move in a bid to catch-up with Netflix and upcoming services such as Disney+," he said. "It has a unique opportunity to tap into a mix of older and younger generations of viewers; differentiating its offering from long-standing competitors (and new entrants) will help it to stand out in what is already a crowded market – and soon to be even more so.

“For this new partnership to replicate the longevity of Sky’s Now TV, Prime Video and Netflix, it will need to provide access to compelling content such as Chernobyl and Stranger Things that audiences are both willing to pay for and not willing to miss. And as the big streamers continue to hire content and marketing powerhouses – like the BBC's marketing chief Jackie Lee-Joe, who's moved to Netflix – retaining talent for the British broadcasters will be crucial to increasing their share in the streaming sphere.

"Britbox could well be the big break BBC and ITV need to flourish – provided they have the right mix of content, originality and people.”

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