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The December 13 announcement that the BBC and ITV have finally launched BritBox, a SVoD service for ‘the best of British’ output, and which will eventually be available globally, although it will debut in the USA, is long overdue.
As a UK licence fee payer, I can only hope that it will prove to be successful for BBC Worldwide, and to help boost everyone’s profits. But I have my doubts.
The problem is that the BBC’s concept is years too late. Netflix has changed everything, and I don’t quite see even the very best of the BBC and ITV’s output tempting too many SVoD eyeballs from the likes of the Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and their competitors. And adding in EastEnders and Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Holby City are not, in my view, going to generate anything like the millions now being created by the likes of Netflix.
Netflix is much criticised as having a financial model that’s unsustainable (see our recent reports from Ovum) but in truth, it seems to be sweeping the board with EMMY wins, Golden Globe nominations (matched by Amazon) for quite brilliant programming and high-profile returning series of The Crown, House of Cards, Stranger Things, Grace & Frankie, Better Call Saul and Narcos and a dozen other top-rated temptations to come in 2017. Moreover, it is now barnstorming its way into the unscripted/reality arena, normally dominated by conventional ‘network’ TV, and Netflix says it will be focusing on concepts that work internationally.
Netflix says that it will introduce at least one new series a week in 2017 helped by a 30-show scripted schedule already in the works, plus another 20 in development. And those promised shows look fascinating, not least Frontier, a period drama about the 18th Century fur trade which should appeal to both US, UK and French fans. For action fans, there’s The Defenders and Iron Fist.
If this wasn’t comprehensive enough, there’ll be tough competition from Amazon. Buoyed by The Grand Tour (which will return) it is no surprise to me that its brilliant dramedy Mozart in the Jungle is another Golden Globe nomination (along with Transparent).
And it isn’t just the slew of high-profile shows, but the calibre of the content. They all have real money spent on cast, crew, locations and technology. The number of times ‘HDR’ pops up on the screen to tell a viewer that not only is the show 4K/UHD but that it has been post-produced in this latest, stunning, technology.
Both Netflix and Amazon have the courage of their convictions. They spend big (a reported $100 million on The Crown, and even more on The Grand Tour) but they are prepared to order eight, 10 or even 16 episodes in a season. Not the pitiful amounts and commitments suffered by UK screenwriters and producers. British screenwriter Anthony Horowitz (best known for Foyle’s War) complained recently that the BBC and ITV no longer have air-time for high-quality series.
The BBC-ITV news also comes at the same time as a Digital TV Research report, which forecasts that by 2018 Netflix’s international activity will overtake its US domestic business, and that by 2021 it will enjoy 118 million subs and be generating $13.14 billion in revenues by 2021.
So, good luck to BritBox, and I truly hope it is successful. But I shall not be holding my breath!