Will Britbox lead British streaming?

Alfie Blincowe discusses the new British streaming service, Britxbox, and whether there is a demographic for it.

Alfie Blincowe
25th November 2019
Credit: Britbox on Youtube
Britbox launched in the UK earlier this month, and with a lack of original content many people are asking, why?

Britbox is a streaming service made up of primarily BBC and ITV shows. It has seen some success in America, being available there for the past two years. Anglophiles overseas rejoiced in having access to British programmes they might otherwise never have seen, but here in the UK we already have streaming libraries, such as iPlayer, for all of our terrestrial television channels.

What can Britbox offer that iPlayer and other free to access websites can't? The answer: not much. There are older box sets of programmes from years ago that are not streaming anymore or never were, such as Midsummer Murders and Yes Minister, but many shows are on both platforms. You can watch Inside No. 9 on the Britbox for £6.99 a month, or on Netflix for £5.99, or you can watch it for free on iPlayer if you have a TV license. There will likely be more cases of paying for something you can access for free somewhere else when Britbox starts streaming Channel 4 content, who are even better at streaming shows for free through All4. Channel 5 content is already up, and Comedy Central originals are soon to follow.

An area where Britbox might be able to appeal to customers is film. iPlayer and All4 don't host anywhere near as many films as they do TV shows, despite both BBC films and Film4 dominating the industry. Britbox may soon be the best place to see classic British cinema as American services like Netflix seem focusing on Hollywood.

They have tried to say they have exclusive content, such as Broadchurch, but it's all things we've seen before

Part of the reason Britbox's UK release is so baffling is that the service doesn't seem ready to compete with the already established streaming giants of Netflix and Amazon. These both have high quality, original shows that draw viewers in, Britbox has nothing like this and seems to have no plans to release any original content. They have tried to say they have exclusive content, such as Broadchurch, but it's all things we've seen before, only now the shows are streaming exclusively on Britbox after their initial terrestrial airing.

Credit: IMDb, Patrick Redmond +353872600976

Back in 2015 Russell T Davies gave a great interview at the RadioTimes Festival. He claimed that in "ten years time everything we understand the BBC to be will be gone," and that many people in the industry kept calling for the BBC to go to a subscription service, much like HBO. "People say that we should have HBO, the finest broadcaster in the world… It gives you nothing… the truth of it is, you have got seven channels. You pay $15 a month, which equals £118 a year, a bit less than the licence fee. But what you get is no news, no soap opera, no weather, no radio stations. Nothing like that." Now, four years on from this interview, we see the launch of a subscription service that covers British TV, including the BBC.

Britbox may be the future of television in the UK, not because it is inventive, innovative or even attractive but because it is more easily monetised than the current system. If the Conservative government stay in power and continue to move towards privatisation of the BBC, then Britbox could easily be the only game in town.

It is convenient to have all of your British programmes in one place, not having to go from the BBC app to Channel 4's, but I for one don't want to pay £6.99 for just that, and would rather keep paying my TV license.

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