ITV has bought out BBC’s share of BritBox U.K. ahead of the launch of its new streaming service ITVX, Variety has confirmed.
ITVX will integrate BritBox U.K. although the latter best-of-British offering will remain a “separate entity” within the app and require a paid subscription.
BritBox International, which is available in the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa, will remain a 50/50 joint venture between ITV and BBC. BritBox International will also launch in the Nordics later this year.
In a call with journalists on Thursday afternoon local time, ITV CEO Carolyn McCall confirmed that the “Love Island” broadcaster had bought out the BBC’s 10% stake in BritBox U.K. for a “nominal” amount.
“We initiated [the buy-out] because ITVX is very much an ITV strategic ambition,” she said. “It’s a very important part of our over-all strategy so we initiated that. In the original shareholder agreement there was a way of dissolving that interest and the BBC have been extremely helpful and supportive. So that’s all that’s happened and we go on normal.”
When asked for further clarification of what the buy-out means for Britbox, an ITV spokesperson told Variety: “To give ITV greater control over BritBox U.K. and enable its integration into ITVX, the BBC has ceased to be a shareholder in BritBox UK. They will continue to be a strong partner for BritBox U.K. and BritBox International, and we have agreed a new long-term content supply deal with the BBC. All PSB partners are committed to BritBox U.K. which offers consumers a large library of the majority of PSB British content in one place from the past and recent past.”
McCall spoke alongside managing director Kevin Lygo and chief financial officer Chris Kennedy, who set out to clarify both how ITVX will work and the new digital-first strategy it heralds.
In the press briefing, the trio explained that ITVX would offer two tiers: a free, ad-driven (AVOD) model and a paid, SVOD subscription model that would also encompass BritBox U.K. McCall described it as an “AVOD-led service with a compelling SVOD service within it.”
The only difference between the two tiers is that the free tier will have ads and the paid-for tier will be ad-free and include BritBox and potentially other “content partners that we develop SVOD partnerships with,” McCall clarified.
The cost of the subscription has not yet been announced. Both tiers will offer ITVX exclusives (more on this below) and live television from the linear channels.
“There are lots of people now who don’t have an arial who are watching live ITV through [ITV] Hub,” said Kennedy. “We saw that last year with Euros [the UEFA European Football Championship]: really big audiences watching live sports on the ITV Hub and we envisage that trend continuing on ITVX.”
“And [live TV] is a big driver of traffic to ITVX,” Lygo added. “And the intention is that once you’re there, you will then be enticed into the very new catalogue and you want to stay there or come back later.”
ITVX will also offer exclusive content to audiences, some of which may potentially air on ITV’s linear channel months or even a year later. (Some ITVX exclusive content may also end up on BritBox International if they’re appropriate, McCall also said.)
ITV has committed a budget of £160 million in 2023 for ITVX exclusives, which may include sci-fi and “higher concept” content including drama and comedy.
“Once the service launches the idea is that every week, we will drop something new and exclusive on to the service,” said Lygo.
Variety asked whether the digital-first strategy could potentially devalue the linear channels. “No,” Lygo replied. “I think what it does is enrich the linear channel…It’s like in addition to what we would be doing anyway, in maintaining our position as the leading commercial broadcaster in this country, we will have at regular intervals the newer content that we’ve had on ITVX for six, nine months, will also be available on the channel. So the channel is becoming enriched by a virtuous circle of the use of material.”
The ITV execs didn’t seem to think that offering content on ITVX up to a year before it goes on linear will cannibalize audiences. “Word of mouth will really count for a lot,” said Lygo. “We’re going to give them a better chance to watch when they want, how they want.”
“In an ever more crowded market of streamers, we are carving out a very interesting and profitable play because when people feel they have enough subscriptions, they can watch us for free and they’re used to doing that,” Lygo explained. “So we’re very confident that’s going to work.”