Will BritBox survive in a Netflix world
This article is about the proposed service "Britbox" in the United Kingdom. The currently running service in the USA is called here "Britbox USA"
What has verifiably been said about the BritBox proposal?
From industry publications:
BBC director general Tony Hall added that he expects the service to be “truly special”. He said it would be “a new streaming service delivering the best home-grown content to the public who love it best,” adding: “The service will have everything from old favourites to recent shows and brand-new commissions.”
ITV expects to plough … £65m over the next two years … into the service, a figure that could be matched by its partner in the joint service. The BBC will reveal the size of its investment at launch but has confirmed that any originals will be funded via BBC Studios rather than out of the licence fee.
ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall revealed that “constructive discussions” are under way with bringing Channel 4 and Channel 5 on board the service - creating a PSB-wide proposition.
She also said that there will be a clear distinction between what content is made available via catch-up service ITV Hub and BritBox.
Shows are currently made available via Hub for 30 days after transmission – a timeframe that is under consideration as part of the plans.
While she said she plans to approach Ofcom about the proposals shortly, chief executive Sharon White has previously given a strong sign that such a service would be waved through.
Can BritBox be a rival to Netflix?
Ok, let’s just get past the Reuters claim that BritBox will be a a “rival to Netflix”: ITV plc is valued at £5.26 billion; the Netflix company today is valued at £119 billion with137 million users in 190 countries and 24 languages. Noone is seriously suggesting that BritBox will equal or beat those Netflix figures.
The real question is can BritBox find a niche that will enable it to survive in a market increasingly dominated by Netflix?
Getting streaming right
If BritBoxis going to find that niche it has to get streaming right. The first challenge here is to ensure BritBox is has the scale and content to be a viable player in the market. The best way to do this would be, as ITV's Carolyn Mcall says, to create a public service broadcasting-wide proposition. This means bringing on board BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, Demand 5 and UK TV Play
The next challenge is to find the most efficient way to bring all of these services together. Currently each of these services has their own streaming system with their own backends, and their own apps. To create an economically viable BritBox these costs need to be consolidated by merging the systems into one. This would mean BritBox would:
- have a single back-end system
- pool resources for user profiling, suggestion systems and retention systems
- support a single set of front-end players (websites, mobile apps, set-top box and smart TVs)
- have a better negotiating position to lower the cost of supplying a subscription system and bandwidth.
Such a sharing of resources would fulfill the BBC's mandate under the BBC Royal Charter, which states that it "must work collaboratively" in the UK market.
BritBox seems more “Hulu” than “Netflix”
There is a precendent for a group of broadcasters to come together to develop a streaming service. In the USA, Hulu one of the three main online TV services.
Hulu is joint-owned by TV broadcast companies Comcast, Disney and Twenty-First Century Fox.
It offers an ad-funded service for £4.50 a month, and ad-free for £9 per month. There are more than 25 million subscribers to Hulu.
Comparisons to Hulu may not be ones the BBC and ITV want make as Hulu’s annual losses are £1.1 billion. Of course the comparison is not entirely appropriate anyway since Hulu's losses are due to strategic investments in developing its own content, licensing shows from other producers and delivering a live TV service. Hulu's aim is not mealy to find a niche in the market, they are investing to go head-to-head with Netflix.
Brining together all of these services in the same market where they already deliver content over the air and on catch-up systems creates additional complications for BritBox. The issue here has to do with “windowing”.
“The windowing strategy for this is critical. We will be clear on the propositions we will offer consumers” - ITV's Carolyn McCall
From the viewers perspective “windowing” refers to the window of opportunity to watch a show. Once produced, a TV show might first be broadcast out on an old-fashioned TV channel (say, ITV) and then be shown again an hour later ITV +1. After this, the show will end up on an online catch-up service such as the ITV hub, where it can be watched for perhaps 28 days, with adverts. The show may then move to Amazon Prime Video where it can be watched, for a subscription fee, now without adverts.
Each of the broadcasters has invested significantly in planning their "windowing strategy" to maximize the reach of their programming and the income it generates. BritBox, as a new streaming service will have fit into these windowing strategies in a way that complements them and doesn't damage them. This challenge has already been recognised by BBC Director General Tony Hall who has said
We want to strike the right balance between the iPlayer and the returns we can get from Advertising video-on-demand and Subscription Video-On-Demand,” BBC Director General Tony Hall, Public Accounts Committee (25 April 2018)
As Carolyn McCall suggested, being clear to consumers about the purpose and value of the BritBox service is vital. Confusion about where BritBox fits has already led to a Backlash in the media. Some people feel that they already fork out £150 a year for the BBC and think that should cover perpetual free availability.
So, can BritBox be a success?
It is clear that BritBox faces some significant challenges: creating a clear viewer proposition, building an efficient back-end, and establishing a windowing strategy that doesn't destroy existing revenue streams. The biggest question will be whether BritBox can attract the numbers of subscribers necessary to make the maths work.
If there is public support for an online entertainment, news and documentary service making TV shows that are distinct from those provided by companies based in Los Gatos, Seattle, Cupertino, there is room for BritBox.
With the talent of the UK creative community and the special connections that the public service broadcasters have with their viewers, there should be a lot of scope to create a service that looks acctractive to the 67 million folk who live here.
What is the best BritBox I can hope for?
I believe that this is what Bitbox needs to be successful:
- It’s £5 a month
- For this money, there are 100% no adverts. None. At All.
- There’s a full library of BBC and ITV dramas, factual programming and films.
- It’s full of the “DVD Extras” like making of shows and audio commentaries.
- Include HD quality (and 4k for films) from the start.
- It works from day one on Android, Apple iOS, Windows and Linux
- It also works from day on set-top boxes like Freesat’s Freetime, YouView, Freeview Play
- It also works from day one with streaming devices like Google Chromecast
Let me know what you think of BritBox?
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