The BBC and ITV already have a service called Britbox in the US, which allows you to watch shows from a few different British broadcasters easily in the United States, where British TV can be hard to come by. Now the two broadcasters have decided to bring this service to the UK. It’s i not a bad decision as such, the ability to watch quality, advert free, reruns of favourite shows like Gavin and Stacey and Broadchurch is a great thing and gives these shows a new lease of life. But their plans also involve original series.
In the UK, we pay for the BBC through the television license. Now, Britbox is co-owned by BBC Studios, which is the commercial arm of the BBC and is for profit. They essentially act as an independent production company, having to bid for production rights to BBC programmes like any other production company. This means they’re not technically part of the BBC, but they do share a name and have close relations to the Beeb. ITV is an ad-supported channel and is largely independent.
It seems that both the BBC and ITV are looking to take on Netflix, who has been investing billions of dollars into producing TV around the world. Both the BBC and ITV currently license their programming to Netflix, seeing them collect royalty payments for their content. But it seems that the current wisdom is to own both the content and the platform to increase profits (See Disney+).
Each company has its own catchup service, and the BBC iPlayer has been using its BBC Three brand to create online originals, but they’re not the same as Netflix or Prime Video, they have a small collection of past titles but not everything in the two broadcasters back catalogue. BBC Studios especially will be looking at Netflix’s David Attenborough narrated documentary series, One Planet, as a direct competitor to the programming made by the BBC’s natural history unit.
Britbox will be betting big on its original content, and hopes that it can create a show that’s a big enough hit to entice would-be subscribers. More established players like YouTube have struggled to find that killer show, and it’s unclear whether there’s an appetite for what Britbox is planning to make. With the BBC being a public broadcaster, customers might be put off paying for content from the broadcaster that they have ‘already paid for.’ It’s not quite as cut and dry as that, but it’s been the perception since the BBC started selling their programming on DVD.
The implication of Britbox’s UK launch is yet another subscription service, with another monthly charge to watch more content in a content-saturated world. It seems like all of these streaming services are giving the consumer the illusion of choice, but in reality, it just means we’re getting ever closer to replicating the cable and satellite subscription. Except, instead of paying one company, we’re having to pay multiple platforms.