ITV, BBC to team up for ‘BritBox’ on-demand TV streaming service

A company sign is displayed outside an ITV studio in London, Britain July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

BARCELONA (Reuters) – British broadcaster ITV is teaming up with publicly funded rival the BBC to launch a new streaming service for UK viewers, a Netflix-style offering of British box-sets and original series.

The partners are finalizing a deal to bring “BritBox”, a service already available in North America, to UK audiences. They say it will offer the biggest collection of British programs available on any streaming service.

“We have agreed a joint vision for the service and are now working on a formal agreement. We anticipate that other partners will be added to BritBox,” ITV Chief Executive Carolyn McCall said on Wednesday.

Other partners, including British broadcasters Channel 4 and 5, were involved in talks for inclusion in BritBox, and discussions with regulators were continuing, McCall said. Launch at an undisclosed price described as competitive is set for the second half of 2019.

UK broadcasters started working on a joint streaming service a decade ago, but were stopped by competition regulators.

ITV’s investment in the new platform would be up to 25 million pounds ($33 million) in 2019 and around 40 million pounds in 2020, declining thereafter. The BBC’s investment was not disclosed.

This year alone, Netflix is investing more than $8 billion in entertainment programming with a global reach.

Shares in ITV, Britain’s biggest commercial free-to-air broadcaster, were down 4.5 percent at 1035 GMT.

“(This) long overdue move is a step in the right direction. However, it might be a bit late,” said independent media analyst Paolo Pescatore. “The biggest challenge is to get consumers to part with their hard-earned cash for another service.”

McCall said Britbox was a different proposition from Netflix’s international offer, and should be understood more as an add-on than a potential alternative.

BBC Director General Tony Hall said the offer would include new commissions and would satisfy appetite for new content, adding that research showed viewers were willing to add subscriptions beyond Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sky.

BritBox has over half a million subscribers in the United States and Canada.

ITV, home of soap opera “Coronation Street” and reality show “Love Island”, announced the tie-up along with 2018 adjusted earnings down 4 percent to 810 million pounds, slightly ahead of forecasts by Citi analysts.

On-screen performance was strong, but economic and political uncertainty in Britain would cause advertising revenue for the first four months of 2019 to fall by 3-4 percent, it said.

Ad revenue for March, the month in which Britain is due to leave the European Union, would be down 17 percent, ITV said, better than the 20 percent drop some analysts had forecast.

Analysts had cautioned that the lack of a political agreement on Britain’s departure from the European Union — which now looks increasingly likely to be delayed — in 30 days time could deter major brands from big advertising spending.

(Additional reporting and writing by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by Jason Neely, Mark Potter, Georgina Prodhan)

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