BritBox U.K. Expansion Undermined by Sky Cold Shoulder

BritBox, the British-themed SVOD founded in the United States in 2017, has encountered a significant roadblock expanding service in the U.K.

The joint venture between the BBC and ITV has reportedly been given the distribution cold shoulder by Comcast-owned satellite TV operator Sky and its 10 million subscribers.

BritBox, with 670,000 subs in the United States, was looking for Sky to help it gain a foothold in a U.K. market already inundated by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, with Disney+ coming in March, 2020.

Amy Jones, a former senior content manager with Amazon Prime Video, was hired in January as managing editor of BritBox to improve content programming.

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Sky, which operates online TV service Now TV, has a direct-access SVOD deal with Netflix.

“We’ll continue to discuss new partnerships with a range of content providers, but we remain disciplined in investing in those new partnerships where they clearly deliver additional value to our customers,” Sky said in a statement.

BritBox is reportedly close to securing distribution deals with Google Chromecast, among others.

“We are looking forward to extending the number of partners we have to enable BritBox to get to more and more homes,” ITV said in a statement.

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Netflix Gets New ‘Aardman’ Movie

Netflix has secured exclusive rights to animated holiday movie Robin Robin from Aardman Studios, the production company responsible for Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit and Shawn the Sheep.

The 30-minute musical tells the story of a baby robin redbreast named Robin who, after hatching in a rubbish dump, is raised by a loving family of mice. As she grows up, her differences become more apparent.

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“When we [got] the concept for Robin Robin, we knew instantly that this was a rare and special project that we had to make together” Sarah Cox, executive creative director at Aardman, said in a statement.

Robin Robin is currently in production at Aardman’s facility in the United Kingdom and will debut on Netflix for the holidays in 2020.

Aardman’s move to Netflix from U.K. distributor BBC reportedly involved money and global distribution.

“Netflix has the ability to buy for the whole world rather than just the U.K.,” director Sean Clarke told The Guardian. “Everything we’ve done [in the past] has been done with the BBC, but BBC budgets are under pressure. The last one we did was probably four or five years ago. The BBC would have loved to have taken Robin Robin. But they weren’t in a position to afford it.”

Alexi Wheeler, manager of kids and family international originals at Netflix, said the SVOD behemoth plans to introduce the Aardman brand to “new generations of families” around the world.

“The craft of stop motion animation through Robin Robin … warms the heart and can be enjoyed by the whole family,” Wheeler said.

BritBox Expands Management Team Ahead of U.K. Launch

BritBox, the British-themed subscription streaming video service launched in the United States in 2017 by the BBC and ITV, has added executives ahead of its Q4 bow in the United Kingdom.

The service, which costs $6.99 in the U.S., will launch priced at £5.99 per ($7.40) month.

The management team is led by Reemah Sakaan, who expanded her BritBox U.S. and Canadian duties to become group director SVOD – ITV and is responsible for leading the U.K. launch.

Sakaan reports to Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of television, who has overall commissioning responsibility for BritBox.

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Sakaan is joined by Amy Jones, who previously worked across co-productions and acquisitions at Amazon Prime Video and is overseeing commissions, acquisition and scheduling for the streamer.

Amy Townsend, previously marketing director at Comcast-owned Now TV, joined as director of consumer marketing and head of product. Lee Marshall, who previously led product for ITV Hub, is responsible for the service’s product build.

Steve Waterman, also formerly from Now TV, has taken the helm as head of research, insight & data, while ITV technology stalwart Thomas Thomas heads up technology and operations.

Tom Price is director of commercial and financial planning, bringing experience from the creation of BritBox U.S. and as a director of Cirkus, and Neill Torbit, former lead creative at Sky, completes the group as Creative Lead.

The BritBox venture and management team is supported by longtime home entertainment Soumya Sriraman, who is president of U.S. operations.

“With a talented team of subscription, streaming and digital experts alongside the best of ITV and BBC’s content expertise, we are looking forward to delivering the breakthrough launch of BritBox over the coming months; it truly is a service that brings the best of British creativity together,” Sakaan said.


BBC Boss: TV Facing ‘Second Wave of Disruption’

First came Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu — the three subscription streaming video-on-demand service upending the traditional pay-TV ecosystem and business model.

The SVOD challengers resulted in media companies rolling out standalone online TV platforms such as Dish Networks’ Sling TV and AT&T’s former DirecTV Now (now AT&T TV), among others.

Later this week, Tony Hall, CEO of the venerable BBC, is slated to give a speech at the Royal Television Society confab in Cambridge outlining what he perceives is a second “American invasion” featuring new-edition SVOD services.

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Indeed, pending U.S. services coming to the U.K. include Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu and Apple TV+, among others.

“Our industry is about to enter a second wave of disruption,” Hall said in prepared comments. “The first was about the rise of Netflix, Amazon and Spotify — market shapers that fundamentally changed audience behavior, often at the cost of huge losses or massive cross-subsidy.

“The second wave will see a range of new entrants entering an already crowded market,” he said.

The BBC is fighting back by licensing original content, “Love Island,” “Gavin & Stacey,” “Gentleman Jack” (available in the U.S. on HBO) and “Broadchurch” on Britbox, the SVOD service co-launched in the U.S. and now the United Kingdom with ITV.

“We’re not Netflix, we’re not Spotify. We’re not Apple News. We’re so much more than all of them put together,” Hall said.

Indeed, BBC was one of the first broadcasters to launch a branded streaming media devices — BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds — to capture changing consumer habits.

“In the space of a year, iPlayer’s reach to young audiences is up by a third,” Hall said. “There is really promising growth right across the piece. And that’s before we roll out our full plans for extended availability and exclusive content.”

HBO Max, BBC Partner for New Original Comedy Series

WarnerMedia’s pending subscription streaming video service HBO Max has partnered with BBC Three for new London-based comedy series “Starstruck.”

The six-part show is written, created by and starring 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Rose Matafeo.

The show, which will also be broadcast in the U.K., follows twentysomething Rose (Matafeo), a millennial juggling two dead-end jobs and navigating the awkward morning-after when she discovers the complications of accidentally sleeping with a movie star.

Rose Matafeo

“The BBC have been so supportive of this project from the get-go and to be able to get this show in front of American audiences at the same time via HBO Max is truly exciting,” Matafeo said in a statement. “I’m thrilled we get to make it, otherwise it would’ve technically just been a creepy fan fiction script that I submitted to the national broadcaster.”

“The minute we were introduced to Rose and ‘Starstruck,’ we knew we had something special,” said Sarah Aubrey, head of original content, HBO Max. “She is exactly the type of original, culture-forward creator we are excited to be working with at HBO Max and we are looking forward to a long partnership.”

Aubrey, along with other Max executives, is profiled in the “2019 Women in Home Entertainment” issue of Media Play News.

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Matafeo won “Best Comedy Show” for her solo show “Horndog,” which has enjoyed sell-out performances around the world, including the New Zealand International Comedy Festival and a Barry Award nominated run at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Research: OTT Revenue Forecast to Reach $22 Billion in 2019

Based on 66 OTT providers, led by Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, U.S. OTT access revenue grew 37% to $16.3 billion in 2018 and is forecast to reach $22 billion in 2019, according to a new research from Convergence Research.

The research firm has released two new reports, “The Battle for the American Couch Potato: OTT and TV” and “The Battle for the American Couch Potato: Bundling, TV, Internet, Telephone, Wireless.”

Still, U.S. TV subscriber average revenue per user (ARPU) is still forecast to be three times U.S. OTT subscriber household ARPU in 2021.

The firm estimates 2018 U.S. cable, satellite, telco TV access (not including OTT) revenue declined 3% to $103.4 billion in 2018 and forecasts 2019 will see a similar decline. Also, 2018 saw a decline of 4.01 million U.S. TV subscribers and 2017 a decline of 3.66 million, according to the firm, which forecasts a decline of 4.56 million TV subs for 2019. The U.S. TV subscriber
base will decline 5% in 2019, from a decline of 4% in 2018, according to the firm’s estimates.

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By the end of 2018, the firm estimates 30% of households did not have a traditional TV subscription with a cable, satellite, or telco TV access provider, up from 26% at the end of 2017. The firm forecasts that number to reach 34% of households by the end of 2019. Convergence Research estimates 2018 saw almost 5 million cord cutter/never household additions.

The firm projects that a number of OTT plays, including large and niche, will fail due to insufficient subscriber traction, cost and competition, noting major programmers continue to accelerate their direct-to-consumer drive, including Disney and WarnerMedia. Other developments noted by the firm include:

  • Hulu spends more on content per sub than either Amazon or Netflix and continues to discount (notably with Spotify);
  • CBS/Showtime’s OTT subscriber trajectory has been faster than expected;
  • Discovery has backed and supplied Philo, gone live with Hulu, Sling and YouTube TV, and will be launching an OTT service with the BBC;
  • NBC Universal will be launching an OTT service in 2020;
  • and Viacom has backed and supplied Philo and others, acquired Pluto and Awesomeness TV and is producing for Amazon and Netflix.

BritBox SVOD Service Heading Home

Following the successful launch of a British-themed subscription streaming video service in the United States, the creators of BritBox are planning to bow the platform in the United Kingdom.

The BBC and ITV Feb. 26 said they are working out the legalities, anticipating that other partners will be added to the service. Both companies said they would speak to regulators and the wider industry about their proposals.

While neither the BBC or ITV would disclose pricing for the service, launch is planned for the second half of 2019. Consumers can pre-register for the service at

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BritBox U.K. would claim to have the biggest collection of British content available on any streaming service, in addition to original content specifically created for the streaming service.

“I am really pleased that ITV and the BBC are at the concluding stage of discussions to launch a new streaming service,” Carolyn McCall, CEO of ITV, said in a statement. “BritBox will be the home for the best of British creativity – celebrating the best of the past, the best of today and investing in new British originated content in the future.

The BBC and ITV launched BritBox in the United States in 2017, with the service recently topping 500,000 subscribers. The tally is significant considering British-themed SVOD competitors include AMC Networks’ Acorn TV, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

There is no shortage of SVOD service in the U.K., with both Netflix and Amazon well established. Data from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board found that more than 12 million households have at least one SVOD service – with annual growth in homes with any SVOD service at 20%. That percentage increases to 32% with 4 million homes having more than one subscription.

ITV claims 43% of all connected homes in the U.K. are interested in subscribing to a SVOD service featuring British content. This percentage increases to over 50% in homes with a Netflix subscription.

“It’s an exciting time for the viewing public,” said BBC director general Tony Hall.



Netflix: ‘Bodyguard’ Topped 23 Million Households in First Four Weeks

Netflix original series “Bodyguard” was streamed by more than 23 million households in the four weeks following its Aug. 26, 2018 debut.

CCO Ted Sarandos disclosed the data Jan. 17 during the SVOD pioneer’s fourth-quarter fiscal webcast.

The British series, which won Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) a surprise Golden Globes award for Best Actor in a TV Drama, features Madden as an ex-Afghanistan war veteran suffering from PTSD now working as a police sergeant assigned to protect the U.K. Home Secretary (played by Keeley Hawes) – a noted war hawk.

Netflix co-produced the show with ITV, with the BBC broadcasting “Bodyguard” in the United Kingdom concurrent with Netflix’s global distribution.

Sarandos said the mini-series was one of 140 co-productions Netflix greenlighted in 2018. He said there are 180 co-productions planned this year.

“When I say co-production, I mean, we come in at the script stage, we come in at the first money stage, we’re involved creatively with the production of that show,” Sarandos said. “[‘Bodyguard’] is a good example of taking a show from anywhere in the world to the rest of the world.”





British Regulator Calls on Country’s Public TV Broadcasters to Create Netflix Rival

With British-centric programming at the core of subscription streaming video-on-demand services such as Netflix, BritBox, Acorn TV and Amazon Prime Video, Sharon White, CEO of media regulator Ofcom, said the country’s public TV broadcasters should join forces to create a competing over-the-top video platform.

The United Kingdom represents the second-largest SVOD markets for Netflix and Prime Video.

Speaking Nov. 28 at the Outside the Box confab in London, White called on broadcasters responsible for popular series such as “Broadchurch,” “Bake Off” and “Blue Planet,” to combine existing OTT video platforms — BBC’s iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 — into a single service that could compete against Netflix and Amazon Prime Video more effectively.

“It would make it easier for viewers to access content across a range of devices, with a single login,” White said, adding that Ofcom has been encouraging U.K. broadcasters to collaborate and harness the power of technology to capture the audiences migrating online.

White cited the BBC/ITV collaboration around the 2017 launch of BritBox in the United States, which streams original series such as “Blackadder”, “Fawlty Towers” and “East Enders,” as a blueprint.

Indeed, Ofcom contends any joint venture hinges on the BBC — a prolific producer of original content for Netflix — which launched the iPlayer in 2007, the same time Netflix began streaming video with a branded Roku device.

“I remain convinced that collaboration is vital to the success of our industry,” White said.  “The sea-changes of recent years will not be the last. Nor can anyone be sure what competition and technology lie over the horizon. But while we cannot hold back the tide, our broadcasters can swim more strongly with it by working together.”



BBC, Lionsgate Team on Content Development

BBC Studios Los Angeles and Lionsgate Television have teamed up to co-develop and co-fund scripted formats and original intellectual property for the U.S. market. As part of the first look agreement, the parties will create original series, drawing on the BBC catalog.

The BBC Studios production unit in Los Angeles provides content to broadcast, cable and subscription services, including scripted productions “Getting On” (HBO) and the Emmy award-winning The Night Of (HBO) and unscripted brands “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC) and the Emmy award-winning “Life Below Zero” (National Geographic Channel).

“BBC Studios productions is known for showcasing the best content with British DNA,” said Matt Forde, managing director, international production and formats, BBC Studios, in a statement. “We’re looking forward to this creative partnership with Lionsgate Television to more readily bring this to the U.S. audiences, and beyond.”

“We’re thrilled to partner with one of the largest and most respected content suppliers in the world,” said Lionsgate Television Group chairman Kevin Beggs and Lionsgate Television Group president Sandra Stern in a statement. “We’re incredibly excited by the opportunity to marshal our complementary resources and expertise to continue to bring the globally renowned BBC brand to the U.S. market.”