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ITV and BBC Prepare to Launch BritBox Streaming Service in U.K.

ITV and the BBC are preparing to bring their best-of-British streaming service, Britbox, onto home turf.

ITV said Wednesday that it was in the final stage of talks with the pubcaster to launch the service, which is a joint venture between the pair, in the U.K. BritBox is so far available only in North America. The BBC said BritBox would roll out in the U.K. in the second half of this year. For its part, ITV will sink up to £25 million ($33 million) into the service this year and £40 million in 2020.

“We are in the concluding phase of talks with the BBC to establish a strategic partnership to bring BritBox, an exciting new SVOD service, to U.K. audiences,” ITV CEO Carolyn McCall said. “This will provide an unrivaled collection of British boxsets and original series in one place. We have agreed [on] a joint vision for the service and are now working on a formal agreement. We anticipate that other partners will be added to BritBox, and we will both speak to regulators and the wider industry about our proposals.”

McCall joined ITV last year after previously helming budget airline EasyJet and the Guardian Media Group. She has been talking up ITV’s direct-to-consumer plans as part of her “more than TV” strategy for the broadcasting giant.

Global production is another pillar of the strategy, and ITV’s production and commercial arm, ITV Studios, has been performing strongly and adding production companies to its roster. On Wednesday, ITV posted a 3% uptick in revenues of £3.2 billion ($4.2 billion) in full-year results for the 12 months to end-December. ITV Studios’ revenues climbed 6% year-on-year, taking the total £1.7 billion.

But the upcoming SVOD launch was the big news in a country where Netflix has been gaining ground fast and streaming subscribers already outnumber those taking traditional pay-TV. ITV and the BBC have been locked in talks, but discussions are also underway with Channel 4 and Viacom’s Channel 5. Whether they own a piece of the service or are simply preferred program suppliers is being thrashed out, industry sources told Variety.

BritBox launched stateside in 2017 and has now crossed the 500,000 mark in subscribers. It has also launched in Canada. Although the service has moved into original programming, it leans heavily on the libraries and programming lineups of its parent companies. How the BBC and ITV will use their vast catalogues as part of a paid-for service in the U.K. remains to be seen. The BBC and ITV are the country’s two biggest free-to-air broadcasters.

There will be original programming for the British service, McCall said. She said that Britbox U.K. would “have a huge range of content” and that the demand is there, as a best-of-British SVOD service does not exist in the U.K. She added that it would be “competitively priced,” but launch details have not been set.

McCall said that ITV Studios will continue to produce for, and co-produce with, Netflix and other streamers, but indicated that the BritBox partners would stop licensing finished content to other SVOD services in the U.K. “We will clearly honor any content rights deals that we have currently in existence,” McCall said on an earnings call. “It is obvious really to assume that ITV content that has been commissioned by the network will end up at some point on BritBox.”

Tony Hall, the director-general of the BBC, said: “I am delighted that the BBC and ITV are working together on something truly special: BritBox, a new streaming service delivering the best home-grown content to the public who love it best. The service will have everything from old favorites to recent shows and brand-new commissions. It’s an exciting time for the viewing public.”

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