Between October and December 2019 the BBC and ITV will launch their new subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service, BritBox, across the UK.

ITV has described BritBox as a service that aims to monetise the companies’ back catalogues.

Both have denied that the service will compete directly with SVOD giants Netflix and Amazon Prime, but the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom has provisionally okayed restrictions on BritBox content, which would suggest otherwise.

Under these restrictions, UK producers who have sold content to the BBC will have to keep it off the wider SVOD market for 18 months, meaning that Netflix and Amazon cannot bid for it.

After the 18-month period only those companies whose operational strategies aim to invest in and support the UK “public service broadcaster ecology” will be eligible to bid, arguably ruling out BritBox’s competitors.

These competitors have been major disruptors of the traditional broadcasting industry, with public broadcasters like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 seeing audiences migrate in their millions to SVODs.

Restrictions would stem rapid growth in foreign investment for UK producers

SVOD competitors have been driving rapid financial and audience growth for UK producers, according to the recent annual survey by Pact, the association for independent UK media companies.

Independent producers have seen a 90% increase in international revenues since 2013, and 40% of all international commissions income was from international SVODs – an 87% increase on 2017.

Major UK bestsellers abroad include The Crown, Black Mirror and Sex Education, all of which have streamed on Netflix in multiple countries. The Crown was Netflix’s most expensive commission ever in 2016. 

New restrictions would also mean that companies most reliant on BBC commissioning will be contractually obliged to keep content on iPlayer – the BBC catch-up service – for 12 months before transferring to BritBox.

The further six-month delay before content can be opened up to new bidders will greatly reduce the bargaining power of the producers, whilst the BBC keeps SVOD competitors at bay.

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Despite its provisional approval of the proposed conditions, Ofcom has opened a consultation since the issue was raised by John McVay, president of Pact. McVay called the regulator’s initial decision “disappointing”.

BBC should keep its strategy aligned with its European broadcasting peers

McVay asked the BBC to live up to its claim to be launching BritBox on “sound commercial grounds”, but the broadcaster has claimed that it will be cultivating British content.

This sentiment follows a trend across Europe for public broadcasters getting into the streaming sphere, including Joyn in Germany and Mediaset Play in Italy.

Joyn, in particular, seems to closely parallel BritBox’s ambitions. Having begun as 7TV in 2017, Joyn was relaunched in June this year showcasing content from five different German broadcasters.

Part of the rationale behind team streamers like Joyn has been to retain audiences for domestic producers in the face of SVOD home-grown programming.

Perhaps if the BBC keeps this goal in mind, it will compromise to give UK producers the open market they need to maintain growth.

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