With the announcement that the streaming service BritBox, a joint venture between BBC and ITV, will launch in the UK, there have been several questions from the British public: Why do I have to pay to stream what my TV licence has already funded? So will Netflix, iPlayer and ITV Hub have their content removed? Isn’t BritBox just… a smart TV? Seriously, what is the point?
While the licence fee question does not really have much validity- we do not pay it to own the content forever. Neither the BBC nor ITV gave DVDs away for free. However, ‘what is the point?’ is quite valid, especially if their shows continue to have a home on both competitor sites and their own catch up services.
BritBox is not entirely ridiculous an idea. At least, it’s not a ridiculous in the US and Canada, where it already exists. Those are countries which do not have immediate access to British programming or are able to catch up the next day. There may be some Anglophiles in each country but also some UK nationals looking for a taste of home. Netflix will cater to some of their needs but there are exclusives to BritBox. If you’re in New York and cannot cope without Coronation Street, there’s good news for you.
Here, it is much more difficult to see the sense behind this venture right away. There is no official word yet on if BBC and ITV content will be removed from Netflix but doing so would not necessarily draw people towards paying for two streaming services. With Netflix creating original content which isn’t available elsewhere, it’s unlikely BritBox would win out between the two.
But what’s that about original content? We must remember that while the initial selling point of Netflix was convenience, it has developed into a creative entity, reinvesting money from subscriptions into new movies, shows and documentaries. The BBC and ITV are increasingly losing the revenue stream generated by DVD sales, so what if they too reinvested the money from subs into creating new programmes?
Well, that brings us back to the question about iPlayer and ITV Hub. iPlayer already hosts original content. It has the shows which would have aired on BBC Three. If some shows stay on iPlayer while others go to BritBox, there will be many aggrieved licence fee payers. If shows go on both, there will be no aggrieved BB subscribers because they will not exist.
There are shows from both broadcasters which are not available elsewhere and if they become available on the new service then that may win favour with an audience. How select that audience is would be of interest. While it has had a presence in North America for a little while, it only has 500,000 subscribers. That’s not much considering the size of the population which may not have even seen the content before. We have a smaller population and not all of us are fans of classic Doctor Who or reminisce about Press Gang from the 80s.
Perhaps the biggest mystery behind launching this service in the UK is why the BBC teamed up with ITV, or even ITV alone. Sky and Channel 4 would add some credibility, with more content catering to a wider variety of tastes. They also have ways of viewing their shows outside of their time slot but the convenience of all those shows in one place would give it more of a helping hand to recreate the success of Netflix.
While it involves some more clicking than we prefer in this day and age, it’s hard to feel like we don’t already have BritBox. To make it immediately relevant by removing content from elsewhere would initially act to annoy customers. Viewers have to be drawn in with something special. At first, maybe old, forgotten shows would be intriguing but those fans have to stay once hooked. Original content keeps people invested but justifying the predicted £5 a month on top of a licence fee is a tough sell.