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British TV rivals join forces, taking on Netflix in UK


AFP London
The BBC and ITV, Britain's biggest television broadcasters, on Wednesday announced plans for a UK streaming service BritBox to confront massive competition for viewers from online giants such as Netflix.
It is likely to be a larger version of their BritBox streaming service in North America, which has more than half a million subscribers.
"The BBC and ITV are in the concluding phase of talks to establish a strategic partnership to bring an exciting new streaming service to UK audiences," a statement said, adding that it would feature new and old programmes at a "competitive" subscription fee.
"The BBC and ITV anticipate that other partners will be added to BritBox and both will speak to regulators and the wider industry about their proposals," the statement said.
The BBC, Britain's mainly state-funded broadcaster, and London-listed ITV said they hoped to launch the service in the second half of 2019.
"I am delighted that the BBC and ITV are working together on something truly special -- BritBox," BBC Director-General Tony Hall said in the statement.
"The service will have everything from old favourites to recent shows and brand new commissions." ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall said the new BritBox "will be the home for the best of British creativity -- celebrating the best of the past, the best of today and investing in new British originated content in the future".
ITV's share price was down 3.5 percent at 126.50 pence in London morning deals, also after the group announced mixed annual earnings.
The UK version of BritBox should help ITV "adapt to the brave new world of on-demand streaming led by Netflix and Amazon", said George Salmon, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. "The BritBox service has been successful in the US, and ITV is hopeful it can replicate this success at home." He added in a client note: "Not only is the way we watch TV changing, the rise of Google and Facebook means the way advertisers promote their products is too.
"All the while, a tighter economic background brings more pressure. These factors explain why ITV is seeking to modernise, and evolve away from its traditional model." Among ITV's current blockbuster programmes are The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and Coronation Street, the world's longest running soap opera. Previous huge successes have been period drama Downton Abbey and detective series Inspector Morse.
BBC draws large viewing figures for Coronation Street rival EastEnders and cult science fiction show Doctor Who, while its massive archive includes natural history documentary series Blue Planet and Only Fools and Horses, one of Britain's best-loved television comedies.
The BBC is famed also for big-budget period drama adaptations such as that of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice.
BBC and ITV viewers are already able to view current and old shows on the two broadcasters' various channels and their existing streaming services BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub.
"The arrival of the joint venture with the BBC in the form of BritBox was well trailed, but is nonetheless an interesting development," noted Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor.
"On the one hand, with a relatively thin initial investment and in starting from scratch, the service will inevitably begin as being Netflix-lite.
"More positively, the sheer breadth and depth of quality content which will be available -- particularly in high-end drama where both stations excel and where consumer demand is clear -- will likely propel BritBox to being a competitor which needs to be taken very seriously," Hunter added.

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First Published: Feb 27 2019 | 7:20 PM IST

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