How BritBox can be competitive in a Netflix world

30 May 2019  |  Craig Burgess 
How BritBox can be competitive in a Netflix world

Craig Burgess examines how the BBC and ITV can make its new streaming service a success in a very crowded market

ITV and BBC have set out their ‘joint vision’ for video on demand service BritBox. It will both act an archive of TV content from both broadcasters and also showcase new material. We don’t have much more detail yet, but it's clearly an attempt to regain the ground both channels have lost to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime.

That said, there are already plenty of ad-free SVOD platforms hidden behind subscription paywalls. If BritBox is to succeed, it cannot simply ape Netflix. Differentiation will be key.

Perhaps a different tack: a combination of Netflix-style recommendations with an ad-funded ‘free’ model like that of Spotify would be a sensible starting place. This would be an obvious misdemeanour for Auntie Beeb of course, which can’t exactly walk this path.

That said, it would allow ITV’s endeavours with BritBox to take advantage of its excellent programmatic offering and access much stronger audience data, insights and servicing.

Too little, too late?

The landscape was very different in 2009, when a streaming service known as Project Kangaroo was jointly mooted by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 but was halted by the Competition Commission. Two years later Netflix launched in the UK – and the rest is history.

On the one hand, it’s hard to blame the Office of Fair Trading’s regulators for not being able to predict the future, but looking across the Atlantic, it wasn’t too hard to see where the market was heading.  Now, with established global players already in place – not to mention Apple TV and Disney Plus on the horizon – there’s a pretty strong case that BritBox will be too little, too late.

There’s also a risk it will cannibalise the BBC and ITV’s existing audiences. It seems likely viewers will choose shows on BritBox rather than on linear TV.

But in the longer term, it perhaps has the potential to allow the UK’s biggest broadcasters to reinvent themselves. Digital programmatic is a terrific marketing tool that can generate a more intelligent viewer service when compared to linear TV models.

How to make BritBox a success

So with that in mind, how can the BBC and ITV make BritBox into a success and compete in what is now a very crowded space?

Firstly, it shouldn’t copy Netflix. Trying to ‘do what they do, but better’ is unlikely to work when ‘what they do’ is already a proven and enormously successful model. So, instead, BritBox should be looking to leverage its USP and the thing that makes it different. That’s its connection with traditional linear TV.

Even though it’s a separate experience, and clearly needs remain so, BritBox must integrate itself with linear TV and allow the two channels to complement each other and encourage viewers to try both. One option would be for shows to premiere on BritBox before transferring to traditional TV. Or perhaps, more likely, shows on linear channels will be supplemented with additional content available only on the VOD service.

Sky already offered extra content with Thronecast to drive engagement with Game of Thrones, so perhaps we could see the BBC doing the same with its new Philip Pullman adaptation or similar shows? That will potentially give it a chance to shine when it comes to the moments that matter. It's all about reaching audiences at the right moment with the most appropriate content.

There’s also the question of how much programmatic data ITV would be willing to utilise, assuming BritBox goes down that route? Digital programmatic offers an unparalleled wealth of data points, allowing the broadcasters to see which shows people are watching, in what order, and with a vast range of information on who, where and when. ITV has already stepped up its programmatic online offering, paving the way towards addressable and programmatic TV on its hub services.

The ability to carry this programmatic momentum forward into a subscription VOD environment would be unique and valuable from an advertiser’s position. It would be fascinating to see how viewers would engage on a programmatically-offered ‘Netflix style’ platform, versus how we know they already behave on linear TV through BARB data.

From that information, the broadcasters could infer the best patterns and approaches for future shows and become data-driven in a way that linear television just isn’t at the moment. It’s entirely possible that BritBox data could become the de facto primary driver of which shows BBC and ITV commission for the next twenty years or more.

But for all that to happen, it will have to be a success – and that’s by no means guaranteed. Linear TV still has an important role to play in the advertising and media ecosystem, but SVOD does as well and in many cases is now superseding it. BritBox’s slow start and crowded marketplace is the legacy of an OFT decision from a decade ago, and so it clearly has a struggle ahead.


Craig Burgess AV manager at UM London

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