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'We're not trying to emulate Netflix': BritBox's plan to find its place among streaming services


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

November 12, 2019 | 6 min read

BritBox has crossed the Atlantic to crack its home market in a unified front from UK public service broadcasters now contending for a slice of the much-coveted and ever-growing public kitty that will be spent on subscription video services.

Britbox shows off its stars

Britbox shows off its stars with brand film launch

Aiming to build on the US and Canada's half a million subscribers is Amy Townsend, ITV marketing director and former head of marketing and planning at Now TV.

ITV and BBC-owned BritBox launched last week claiming it was “the first time in the UK that consumers can explore the best of British box sets all in the one place."

Townsend said it has had a "brilliant opening weekend, exceptional" although the group does not disclose subscribers or performance metrics. A flurry of UK viewers are now running on a 30-day trial and it hoped the relatively low price, in comparison to rivals, of £5.99 a month will retain those who sign up.

With 1,000 hours of BBC and ITV classics, soon to be followed with Channel 4, Film4, Comedy Central UK and Channel 5 from 2020, there is a comprehensive archive of boxsets available, many unavailable elsewhere. For example, every episode of Love Island, 627 episodes of Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Broadchurch and an infeasible amount of David Attenborough documentaries are just some cornerstones.

By uniting the UK’s public service broadcasters behind a global streaming brand, BritBox hopes that lost British gems (supplemented with upcoming exclusives) will prove strong and unique enough to cut through a crowded market.

This is BritBox

After last month's soft launch, BritBox is now targeting 12.5m British consumers with an SVOD subscription and/or an interest in British content. "There is significant headroom for us all to play in this space," Townsend said.

Spearheading this is its first brand film, a star-studded view of a 'BritBox' from esteemed director Danny Kleinman, creator of seven of the eight last James Bond title sequences. ‘This is BritBox’ features the actors who feature on and curate the app. There is a mix of up-and-coming talent, Samson Kayo, Georgina Campbell and Molly Windsor and staples Imelda Staunton, James Nesbitt and Sheridan Smith. A digitally-composed shot of David Jason’s ‘Del Boy’ of Only Fools and Horses fame also pops up.

Townsend said it is "one of the biggest campaigns that ITV has ever gone to market with.

"The best way to do this was through endorsement from the talent. They were very keen to get involved. The BBC and ITV are unique in that they can actually bring them together," she added.

This “broad” launch campaign comes at a congested time for SVOD with Apple TV+ coming to market last week, and ahead of Disney+ this week.

“We’ve launched just in the middle of Apple and before Disney… we are not trying to emulate them, Netflix or Amazon, who are global players. We will showcase the best of British.”

But these new launches instead “could be painful for Netflix” – currently a market leader that looks to have plateaued. BritBox may have some pain of its own to inflict on Netflix, top BBC dramas like Line of Duty, Bodyguard, Call the Midwife and Peaky Blinders are available there - for now.

Townsend hinted: “We are not competing with Netflix but some of the shows will come off when the licenses come to an end and will come back to BritBox. This is the right time to pull it all together now we have the platform to support it.”

After an archive-reliant launch, BritBox will start unveiling its first originals from 2020. Mark Lawson, Guardian writer and broadcaster, noted: “Because of the vast past achievements of BBC and ITV, the old material on BritBox already feels better value than the new shows on Apple TV+.”

Think Like a SVOD

BritBox will leverage the ITV network to raise brand awareness. It estimates a 25% share of voice in December and expects to reach 80% of adults up to 26 times during the launch.

As advertising is forbidden on the BBC in the UK, BritBox is also advertising on Agora, Rokt, Samba TV, Verizon Media and Picnic for the first time.

The SVOD ads on SVOD platforms are designed to convert those already using the tech. Additionally, significant spend will be going into the ITV Hub which just surpassed 30m registered users.

“There are a huge amount of registered users within the ITV Hub allowing us to do targeted and individual comms depending on what they are watching by genre or specific shows… we will know based on what customers are consuming, can allow us to be much more targeted in our communications,” said Townsend.

As it gathers more viewer data and learns more about the tastes of audiences, BritBox will be able to release more targeted ad campaigns. And if it finds that audiences are hungrily consuming classics, it may be in a strong position to resurrect beloved properties and put them front and centre.

It has taken years to build the proposition, it's been “no mean feat” and required a lot of “negotiations and pragmatism” to bring together the public service broadcasters.

Some argue it is late to market, but Townsend concluded: “Now is the time, the SVOD category is growing exponentially. More consumers are consuming TV differently so we had to be in the space."


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