ITV, BBC, Channel 4 Unite to Launch Streaming Service BritBox in U.K.

BBC America
'Broadchurch' is among BritBox's content offerings.

The three-year deal with Channel 4 will add 1,000-plus hours of programming, including for the first time on any streamer an exclusive Film4 curated service featuring iconic films, from 2020.

ITV and the BBC said early Thursday that they have officially launched streaming service BritBox in the U.K., making good on their promise to start offering an alternative to global streamers like Netflix and Amazon in the fourth quarter. In addition, they struck a deal with Channel 4 to add its content to the streamer starting next year.

BritBox has already been available in the U.S. and Canada, and ITV and the BBC earlier this year announced plans for the U.K. launch. The three-year deal will add 1,000-plus hours of programming, including for the first time on any streamer an exclusive Film4 curated service featuring iconic films, starting next year. Film4 content will follow later in 2020 after the spring addition of Channel 4 programming.

Viacom-owned Channel 5 recently also joined BritBox as a content partner.

BritBox in Britain is priced at £5.99 ($7.69) per month in HD, which the partners said "is less than other streaming services," and is available "across multiple screens and devices." ITV and BBC executives have said the service is designed to strengthen their audience reach and business amid competition from global streaming giants. But they have also said they don't see it as a real rival to Netflix.

BritBox features current shows soon after they air on ITV and BBC, including Love Island and Gentleman Jack, as well as iconic series such as Downton AbbeyGavin & StaceyVictoria and Broadchurch. Such shows as Happy Valley, Les Miserables and The Office will also become available on BritBox over time

BritBox also revealed that "all 627 available episodes of classic Doctor Who, originally broadcast between 1963 and 1989, will be available to stream for the first time ever from Boxing Day, including animated recreations of missing episodes using the original soundtrack, and the original pilot from 1963."

The service's navigation heavily features pictures and includes an option to browse for content featuring whatever acting talent a user may be looking for. Management also said the service will feature curated features, such as what content a certain star is watching on BritBox.

Reemah Sakaan, group director ITV SVOD, who leads the BritBox management team, on a press call said the launch allows the British public service broadcasters "to stake our claim" in the streaming world.

She said her team was "busy building the pipeline" of originals for the service, but had no titles to share yet. Asked why originals were not at the heart of the service at launch, she said: "Originals are really important, but they aren’t everything. ... We really need to be present."

What kind of originals is BritBox looking for? Sakaan mentioned that content that doesn’t fit BBC or ITV schedules, but has stars and is made for bingeing would be a fit. "We are talking to the Brits that have conquered Hollywood" and also local stars, she shared.

In terms of the BBC’s and ITV’s relationship with Netflix, Sakaan reiterated that both remain open to co-production deals with the streaming giant, but said their own shows would continue to come off Netflix as contracts expire.

She also said that BritBox and Channel 4 are currently finalizing what iconic older and current shows, such as, possibly, The Great British Bake Off, would make it onto the streamer.

Sakaan said BritBox had "ambitious" plans and targets to be profitable, but she didn't share any subscriber or financial targets.

ITV controls the venture with a 90 percent stake, compared with the BBC's 10 percent, and is able to appoint a majority of the BritBox board.

Sakaan, who is responsible for making editorial decisions about the service's content while ensuring alignment with ITV's and the BBC's branding and editorial policies, reports to Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of television, who has overall commissioning responsibility for BritBox. But she said Thursday that BritBox is looking to hire a CEO to take over after the initial venture stage.

ITV and the BBC reiterated that BritBox will also feature original content from British production companies, with the first show expected to be commissioned soon and made available in 2020.  

Meanwhile, BT said Thursday it was partnering with BritBox "to create a range of products and offers that feature access to BritBox for millions of customers across its brands and services." As part of the deal, its wireless service EE will be the exclusive mobile partner for BritBox. 

Said Sakaan: "BritBox is all about bringing together the best of British creativity and talent in a new digital world. Today’s launch and announcement of our partnership deals with Channel 4 and BT underline the quality and scale we want the service to embody. It’s wonderful to be bringing such a wealth of brilliant British TV and film to subscribers from today, and I’m looking forward to revealing our exciting, original commissions in the near future."