The BBC and ITV have confirmed plans to join forces and launch a paid-for streaming service called BritBox by the end of this year, in an attempt to head off Netflix.
Netflix is eating into the market share of traditional broadcasters, as audiences increasingly desert established channels and expect shows to be available instantly on streaming services.
BritBox will mainly feature archive BBC and ITV shows, alongside new British commissions made especially for the service. There were no details on pricing; the announcement said it would be “competitive”.
However, BritBox will not have the latest BBC and ITV shows, which will remain available through the catch-up BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub services. Other broadcasters are expected to join the service later, with Channel 4 known to have taken part in discussions, which were revealed by the Guardian last year.
ITV has pledged to invest up to £65m in the joint venture over the next two years. The publicly funded BBC would not comment on whether it was putting a similar amount of money into the project.
The decision means British broadcasters are likely to stop licensing their archive material to services such as Netflix to try to drive subscribers to the new UK service, which will operate on a fraction of the budget of its deep-pocketed US rivals.
The ITV chief executive, Carolyn McCall, said BritBox would be pitched as an add-on for British households that already had one streaming service: “It’s complimentary to Netflix because it’s doing a very different thing.”
She said Netflix commissioned shows on a global basis but BritBox’s original material would be aimed at UK viewers: “When we’re commissioning content we’re looking at it working in the UK specifically. It is a permanent, comprehensive home for the widest range of British content available in one place.”
The decision to launch the service came a decade after Project Kangaroo, a proposal for a similar British cross-channel streaming service, was blocked on competition grounds. Many in the British TV industry blame the Competition Commission’s decision for opening the door for Netflix to dominate.
This time around, the media regulator, Ofcom, said it welcomed the BritBox proposal because it wanted to see British broadcasters “collaborating to keep pace with global players, by offering quality UK content that’s available to viewers whenever and however they want to watch it”.
BritBox is already available in the US, where it has 500,000 customers who pay for a selection of UK television shows. The new service will only be available to British subscribers. They will be able to watch it on holiday within the EU, but only if the government strikes a trade deal with Brussels.
McCall admitted the existing ITV Hub catch-up service was not good enough and “very clunky”, but said ITV was investing heavily in improving it.
She said: “If you look at it today, the look and feel has already changed. It’s much cleaner and nicer to be on. You’ll also be led through it in a much better way. There’s a whole load of things to come.”
ITV programmes are available on ITV Hub for a month after their initial broadcast, in line with the BBC’s iPlayer policy. However, the BBC is seeking approval to make many shows available on iPlayer for up to a year, which could affect when material becomes exclusively available on Britbox.
The announcement that talks on Britbox had almost concluded was timed to coincide with ITV’s annual financial results, which show the broadcaster’s profits dipped slightly in a tough market.
The company warned this year could be tougher, since 2018 was aided by strong advertising in a World Cup year and success in its production business, which makes shows for other channels, such as the BBC’s Bodyguard.
The BBC director general, Tony Hall, said the streaming service would be “truly special”. “A new streaming service delivering the best homegrown content to the public who love it best,” he said. “The service will have everything from old favourites to recent shows and brand new commissions. It’s an exciting time for the viewing public.”