ITV and the BBC’s BritBox streaming service has potential despite the silly name

It will be able to call upon a vast library of content, and the mooted £5 monthly subscription, if adopted, is sensibly small 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Wednesday 27 February 2019 13:59
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Doctor Who should be a key part of streaming service BritBox’s armoury
Doctor Who should be a key part of streaming service BritBox’s armoury

BritBox is an interesting idea with a silly name.

It’s the moniker for the streaming service that ITV and the BBC are planning to launch, with the possibility of Channels 4 and 5 joining it, to capitalise on the booming takeup of the likes of Netflix.

Streaming is the medium of choice when it comes to TV consumption among the young, and increasing numbers of the not so young.

But while Netflix and Amazon both have some UK content, much of it licensed from UK broadcasters, it’s not a notable strength of their offerings.

There would thus appear to be a gap in the market that the new service could exploit. A US version has already picked up in excess of 500,000 anglophile and expat subscribers. The UK numbers could easily dwarf that.

Its USP is clearly the vast back catalogue the pair have in their possession, which is currently scattered. In addition to the existing streamers, some can be seen on cable channels, some is available only on DVD, some gathers dust in the archives.

The broadcasters believe there is sufficient appetite for it, and new content, once it has fallen off the BBC’s iPlayer and the ITV Player, that people people will be willing to pay for.

There are reasons for thinking they might be right.

There are around 12 million households in the UK subscribing to at least one streaming service, and the number is growing at an annual 20 per cent clip.

Some 4 million have more than one, and that is growing at 32 per cent. If the unconfirmed price comes in at the suggested £5 a month, a sensibly small but handily round number, that 32 per cent growth could accelerate rapidly.

Compared with Netflix’s vast budgets, the resources ITV is putting behind it, referenced in its latest results, are modest. The company envisages £25m in the first year, rising to £40m then falling as the service finds its feet. Those are net figures that will be offset by revenues, so the actual spend will be larger, but still.

Some of the money will fund original content aimed exclusively at the new service. It could be edgier than what appears on the main channels. I don’t imagine Doctor Who is ever going to say the F-word as Robin does on DC’s Titans (for the record it was F-ing Batman), now streaming on Netflix. But perhaps another, younger rogue time lord might in a grittier, noir series? That might be fun. Or how about a revival of ITV’s classic Sapphire & Steel? More detective spin-offs? There seems to be an endless appetite for those.

So yes, if done right, and given sufficient love by the partners, the potential is there, and while ITV seems to have been the leading advocate of it (the BBC had a go nine years ago but regulators said no) it could be just as important to Auntie, given the falling licence fee revenues it is grappling with partly as a result of its abandonment by younger viewers.

I’ve wondered in the past how ITV survives in a land of giants that can dump umpteen millions into their pet projects, like Amazon’s planned Lord of the Rings prequel. It’s facing a tough outlook for advertising, which caused the shares wobble on the back of the otherwise creditable results.

This might just be a way despite the silly name. I’m told the extensive market research said people like it, so I’m willing to be proved wrong about the latter.

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