BritBox Subscriptions And The TV Licence Fee

The BBC and ITV have announced BritBox, yet another streaming service trying to sign up as many people as possible for a monthly fee, is going to be coming to the UK.

Currently available in the US and Canada, it will join a market that already has a dominant player (Netflix), a strong second choice (Amazon Prime), and plucky alternatives (such as NowTV, Mubi, Sky Go, Disney Life, etc). It looks like the hook here is ‘access to old UK shows’, although a glance through the existing UK services will show that many of them are already present so this feels more about wanting to own the customer and create lock-in, than providing yet another place to watch Top Gear, Doctor Who, and Blackadder.

The key thing to watch over the next few years is going to be how this impacts the funding of ITV and the BBC. The former relies on advertising in linear programs, something that is endangered with falling viewing figures. Britbox could open up a new revenue stream but based on subscribers, not eyeballs.

As for the latter, the UK TV licence fee allows for a diverse range of programming that doesn’t necessarily chase an algorithm and provides public service programming that commercial organisations tend to shy away from. If Britbox does take off, certain demographics are going to look at the monthly cost of Britbox next to the monthly cost of the licence fee, and wonder why people are being made to ‘pay twice’ for content.

That’s not how public service broadcasting works, but that is how you can build a wedge against it.