Carolyn McCall, chief executive of UK commercial public service broadcaster ITV, has refuted a suggestion that the proposed BritBox SVoD service it is planning in partnership with the BBC was “far too late” to market and “completely dwarfed by recent announcements from California,” suggesting that its distinctive British programming offered something that other services did not.
Addressing a meeting of the Broadcasting Press Guild in London, McCall noted that the broadcaster’s strategy involved investment in technology and, analytics, as well as creating a direct-to-consumer (D2C) division. “Clearly we want to have direct relationships with our viewers, who become customers because there is money changing hands.” This involved establishing a direct relationship using data and via the planned BritBox service.
Of ITV’s three income pillars, studios, D2C and advertising, McCall revealed that it would be moving in to programmatic advertising. “We’ve focused our efforts on the [ITV] Hub, so it’s all about video-on-demand. We are very close to signing something on that with a partner who will bring the technology to us,” she revealed. “We will have our premium VoD inventory which will be highly automated, so the agencies will come to us.”
As to whether BritBox was too late, McCall said that the thing that was going for BritBox was that it was not American content. “It’s not STARZ, it’s not Showtime, it’s not HBO. It’s not all about stuff you’re going to get on Sky and on the web,” she explained. “It’s distinctively British-originated content. It’s highly differentiated and BritBox will allow viewers to come to one place both to get the past: archive content curated in an interested and creative way; the present: because the window will be catch-up and then to BritBox, and then we will originate new content and that will be distinctively British. It will be distinctive to the British market.”
She said that the US and Canada BritBox service was “a completely different product”, being niche and highly repackaged for an audience that loves hyper Britishness, whether it was Royal Family material, or old comedies. “We shouldn’t confuse the two,” she advised. “BritBox UK is specifically for this market. The British product is not intended to roll out to the US.”
She said that certain BBC content wold come to BritBox as the second window. “It will go iPlayer, BritBox. That’s a period of time when it would have gone ‘dark’. That is definitely distinctive and different.”
She said that “cleaning up” rights and centralising them, and making BritBox happen was a “really important thing for PSBs to do for this country. There is a demand for PSB content,” she advised, noting that much of the most popular content on platforms such as Sky and Virgin Media tended to be PSB content.
In terms of other UK PSB involvement in BritBox, McCall said that venture had talked to Channel 4 right from the start. “There will be a way for them to participate in this and they really want to participate in this,” she asserted, although she was unable to give timescales. “There have been discussions, there are going to have to be negotiations with them. But I know, having seen [Channel 4 chief executive] Alex [Mahon] yesterday that it’s something they want to do and something we would welcome them being part of.”
Following the admission by Dan Fahy, VP Commercial and Content Distribution, Viacom International Media Networks, that the broadcaster was interested in participating in BritBox via its UK commercial PSB licensee Channel 5 and had talked to ITV, McCall admitted that such discussions were part of the overall process in getting the remaining UK PSBs on board. “We’ve been having conversations with them for some time, so ‘more to come’” she confirmed.