Three-D Issue 33: Launch of BritBox in the UK

Phil Ramsey
Ulster University

Many media policy watchers will take a keen interest in the November 2019 launch of BritBox in the UK. The service brings together content from ITV and the BBC, and will later include content from Channel 4. BritBox has launched into what is now an exceptionally competitive Subscription Video on Demand (SVoD) market place, which includes Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, and the recently launched Apple TV. Disney+ is due to be launched in due course, with Disney Life already offering online content.

The launch of BritBox is the realisation of a long-held ambition for many among those who wanted the public broadcasters to have a shared service. This follows Project Kangaroo which was never launched (blocked by the Competition Commission in 2009), with the short-lived SeeSaw service following a year later. Many of the UK’s largest media organisations already work together, with the BBC and ITV delivering the YouView service, alongside companies such as Channel 5 and BT.

When the UK launch of BritBox was announced, Carolyn McCall, ITV’s CEO, called it a “milestone moment”, and said that those consumers used to streaming television “are also happy to pay for this ease of access to quality content and so BritBox is tapping into this, and a new revenue stream for UK public service broadcasters.” Indeed, as advertising revenues for commercial public broadcasters have been squeezed by the downturn in the television advertising market, BritBox could well deliver an important new funding stream. ITV is currently the 90% equity partner, and it is therefore mainly for that broadcaster to make a success of the service. That said, ITV remains a phenomenally strong business both in its revenue and its profits.

As a concept, BritBox makes sense, bringing all PSB content together in one place, but it remains to be seen if viewers in the UK will recognise that. On the day of its launch some social media users questioned why they were being asked to pay for content that they had already paid for through their licence fee. Tony Hall, the BBC Director-General, pointed out that it was akin to buying a BBC DVD – which when videos are taken into account – is a decades old practice. However, viewers may not always appreciate such finer points. When original programming starts appearing on BritBox in 2020, will it be well understood that it is not being paid for by the licence fee?

Viewers however will be conscious of the fact that much PSB-originated content is already available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, while additional confusion in this area comes from the fact that ITV still offers a paid-for-version (ITV HUB+) of its free video on demand service (ITV HUB). The £5.99 per month cost for BritBox is exactly the same price as the basic cost for Netflix. Might a bolder approach to pricing have been considered, with a lower price entry point helping to generate interest? As to the success of BritBox, it is too early to say.

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