BBC, ITV Bosses Tout Planned BritBox U.K. Streaming Service

Director General of the BBC Tony Hall - BBC Broadcasting House on November 15, 2018 - Getty-H 2019
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Tony Hall, the director general of the U.K. public broadcaster, and Carolyn McCall spoke at a TV industry conference in London.

The bosses of U.K. TV giants ITV and the BBC on Thursday touted their planned launch of the BritBox subscription video-on-demand service in Britain.

Speaking at the Media & Telecoms 2019 & Beyond conference, hosted by Deloitte and Enders Analysis, Tony Hall, the director general of the U.K. public broadcaster, said BritBox is something consumers should appreciate in a fast-changing media world. "Not long ago, traditional broadcasters and media organizations could each do our thing and expect audiences to make time to come to us. Now we must fit around their lives," he explained. "Deliver value directly to them — or we all risk irrelevance. This is a profound shift. It means we need a new contract with our audiences. They still expect great value for money, but more personal over time, in a more relevant, one-to-one way."

Given that the BBC is funded by an annual license fee that all U.K. taxpayers are charged, some critics have said the streaming service will be equivalent to the public broadcaster charging people a second time. But Hall on Thursday highlighted that the streaming platform is just a way of serving consumers in ways that fit the digital age. "Our U.K. commercial activity will play a greater role in supporting the BBC’s public purposes. It always has done," he explained. "In the past, a DVD of a David Attenborough landmark could inform, educate and entertain just as much as the original broadcast. [Pay TV network] UKTV has been extending the reach and value of the BBC’s brand for years. BritBox offers another new way to do this and a new way to bring commercial investment back to re-invest in great content."

The BBC and ITV late last month said that they were in the final stages of talks to bring their BritBox subscription VOD service, which has attracted more than 500,000 subscribers in North America, to the U.K. in the second half of the year to offer "an unrivaled collection of British boxsets and original series." They also said that additional partners, such as Channel 4 and Viacom's Channel 5, could join the effort as various companies have been looking to take on Netflix's dominant position in the streaming space.

McCall in her Thursday conference appearance expressed confidence that Channel 4 would join BritBox. "We have had constructive chats, and they will be in in one way or another," she said. "The hard yards in the negotiation were about the BBC and ITV."

Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon later in the conference echoed that the two sides have had "positive and constructive discussions."

McCall also reiterated that BritBox would have conversations about bringing the streaming service to U.K. pay TV giants Sky and Virgin Media. "We will be talking to all of the pay platforms," she told the conference.

Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch later in the conference was asked about BritBox and said that local content is key in all of the pay TV giant’s markets. While Sky will first look to get a full understanding for what the BritBox service will offer and how it will work, he said "we will be very open to it.”

BBC's Hall gave some new color about the streaming offer on Thursday. "Crucially, U.K. audiences will always know who to credit for what they’re watching. Both ITV and the BBC will have full branding and attribution at service and program level," he shared. "It’s another reminder of just how central a role the public service broadcasters play as the engine-room of our creative economy."

But Hall on Thursday also raised the issue of a potential delay in the launch of BritBox in the U.K. due to regulatory hurdles. "Of course, all these proposals are subject to regulatory processes. Clearly this could mean a delay," he said. "Here I have to make an obvious but vital point. If we need to change and adapt to a new global, digital marketplace, so does the regulation around us. The landscape in which we operate has changed beyond all recognition over the past decade. But our regulation has stayed largely the same. We are operating a linear framework in an on-demand world."