Variety partnered with U.K.-based consultancy Ampere Analysis to delve into the top local and regional ad-supported and pay TV services that are competing with behemoths like Netflix and Amazon. For more, click here.

As Disney Plus launched in the U.S. to great fanfare in the fourth quarter of 2019, its reverberations reached the U.K., where, for the first time, the proportion of households with subscriptions to at least one streaming service among Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Sky-backed streamer Now TV surpassed 50%, according to measurement agency Barb. In this year’s first quarter, the figure rose to 53%, or 15 million homes in a nation of around 27 million households.

For U.K. broadcasters, leaning into domestic content has been the impetus for change — and the weapon for survival. According to a 2019 Ofcom report, public service broadcasters’ 32,000 hours of original productions in 2018 dwarfed the 221 hours available on global SVODs. The drive for local content is propelling the BBC and ITV — whose programs are exported around the world — to evolve their on-demand services into vibrant platforms with library fare and exclusive offerings that can safeguard their audiences from the lure of the global challengers.

Ampere Analysis reports that Netflix is in roughly 12.4 million U.K. homes, followed by Amazon Prime (10.7 million) and Now TV (1.7 million). One up-and-coming player that’s not far behind is ITV Hub Plus, an expanded version of its popular AVOD platform ITV Hub. The “Love Island” broadcaster’s SVOD service is priced at £3.99 ($5) per month.

“It’s exactly the same content offering and functionality as you get on ITV Hub, except you can remove ads, download programs and watch abroad,” says Steve Forde, ITV’s director of digital. According to Ampere Analysis, Hub Plus currently has 596,000 subscribers. Meanwhile, ITV’s first quarter results in May revealed that the commercial broadcaster’s Hub has 32 million registered users.

In April, which marked one of the worst months of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.K., Hub’s viewing hours were up by 82% year on year — a rise that’s likely due to hit dramas such as ITV/AMC co-production “Quiz” and the second season of thriller “Liar,” as well as the winter edition of dating show “Love Island” and “Britain’s Got Talent” — a long-running entertainment hit that allowed the broadcaster to experiment with Hub original “Unseen,” featuring unaired auditions from the show.

“It’s done great numbers for us as something that is an exclusive piece of content around one of our landmark shows,” Forde says.

That originals push looks set to continue. ITV CEO Carolyn McCall recently said Hub will feature more youth-oriented original programs in a bid to capitalize on a 20% surge in young viewers (16- to 34-year-olds) who gravitated to the platform during lockdown. “They’re a much more difficult audience to attract, and we have to keep them within ITV Hub and ITV,” declared McCall, stopping short of adding, “and away from Netflix.”

Another crucial prong to ITV’s VOD strategy is 9-month-old BBC- and ITV-backed SVOD service BritBox, a domestic edition of the U.S. streamer. (The state-side version recently surpassed 1 million subscribers.) A U.K. iteration has been long anticipated as a way for broadcasters to pool their content and battle encroaching global streamers; however, some couldn’t understand why ITV would look to promote Hub Plus at the same time.

Forde explains that the two platforms serve different purpos­es. “The BritBox proposition features all the big box sets in Britain, from British providers, in one place to binge-watch,” he says, while “Hub Plus is about watching a program, keeping up with the narrative of a show and watching without ads.”

It’s perhaps more likely that Hub Plus, which hasn’t had to increase ad loads during the pandemic, is intended to further drive ITV’s direct-to-consumer revenues, which received a 4% boost in 2019 ($107 million), and was on track, pre-pandemic, to hit $127 million
in revenue by 2021.

ITV moved quickly to pave the way for BritBox, pulling all its content off Netflix U.K. ahead of the November 2019 launch. “We look at Netflix and Amazon as a kind of inspiration, but we’re always very viewer-oriented to make sure we’re delivering for our audience,” says Forde diplomatically.