BritBox is a streaming service that has been available in the US for over two years, and it has north of 600,000 subscribers. Its unique selling point in the US is clear: if you're a fan of British TV, you'll find a lot of it on Britbox. Now the service has finally launched in the UK, with a 30-day free trial offer.
The service is a joint venture between ITV and BBC, with programming from both making up the majority of the launch lineup (along with Channel 5), and Channel 4 and Comedy Central UK content to come later.
Right now, however, its USP doesn't quite make as much sense in the UK, unless you have a particular affinity for classic ITV drama. Given how much great BBC content is already on Netflix UK or the Beeb's own licence fee-supported iPlayer streaming service, BritBox's lineup doesn't immediately strike us as exciting compared to its competitors.
To take just one example from dozens of shows, you could watch the phenomenal anthology show Inside No. 9 on BritBox, or you could just watch all of it on iPlayer for free. Likewise, while BritBox's library does seem fairly comprehensive when it comes to British classics like Blackadder, Downton Abbey, Prime Suspect and Inspector Morse, not everything we expected to see is on there right now. You'll find 11 series of Doctor Who on iPlayer for free right now, but none on BritBox – although by Christmas, over 600 episodes of pre-1989 Doctor Who stories will join the lineup.
Paying to access BBC shows, meanwhile, is already a contentious issue for some. We won't get into the politics of the licence fee here – you either think the BBC is worth it or you don't, or you fall somewhere in the middle. But paying an extra £6 to access new-ish BBC content does feel weird when the BBC itself vowed last month to keep new content on the service for a year, rather than 30 days as it did previously.
A selection of classic shows that you'd expect to see on BritBox are available on iPlayer right now for free, too – complete box sets of Outnumbered, Gavin and Stacey, Fleabag, Life on Mars, Luther and more. BritBox has a wider range of older shows, absolutely, but it doesn't yet have the popular Fleabag or Luther from that selection, so right now it's not as comprehensive as it could be.
- What you need to know about Britbox
- The other big streaming service coming soon is Disney Plus
- We've previously covered the reaction to BritBox from UK viewers
What about original content?
In terms of original programming, a whole lineup of shows is apparently coming later to BritBox, but for now the service touts exclusive older shows and imports on its platform. ITV's popular drama Broadchurch is touted as a 'BritBox exclusive', for example, and it's a similar deal with BBC comedy Him & Her. It's hard to get too excited about shows you've previously watched moving behind another £6 pay wall.
More interesting is the exclusive import Lambs of God, an Australian drama about nuns living on a remote island, starring The Leftovers' Ann Dowd. You've also got a couple of exclusive episodes of Midsomer Murders to dip into – which firmly makes it feel like BritBox is targeted at older viewers.
What about films?
Movies is one area where BritBox might eventually find a way to stand out from the other streamers, even if the excellent MUBI and BFI Player services already trade somewhat in British classics. BritBox's offering right now is focused on much older films, like The Red Shoes, The Boys From Brazil and, er, a shedload of Carry On films. But in 2020, movies from Film4's archive will start coming across, and the service might start having some serious potential.
Again, though, the existing free UK options are actually pretty good at providing this stuff. You can watch Sexy Beast and a range of other great British films on All4, while iPlayer is no slouch, either, cycling in a mix of modern classics and vintage favourites, and not just from the UK. Unless that archive really grows to be second-to-none when it comes to British cinema, this doesn't yet feel like a reason to subscribe.
It's not the most thrilling service right now
This is the thing we can't shake with BritBox at launch. It feels like you're paying £6 to access a lot of content you used to get as part of another subscription, or that you might be able to catch on ITV3. There isn't enough to differentiate it from existing streaming services to make it truly exciting right now – although that could change with time.
Older British viewers might like the angle of this being a big living archive. And ITV's Reemah Sakaan is right to make the point that older shows have sparked a bidding war in the US, suggesting that not everyone is demanding big, expensive originals. "The new battleground, quite often in streaming, are shows like Friends, which are 20 years old and are the top performers," she told BBC Radio 4.
It's true that no one else really owns or markets around that patch of British TV when it comes to streaming, but then again, content that fits this description has always been easy to find on the likes of iPlayer and All4, or Netflix and Amazon.
As it becomes a more well-rounded archive of British TV, the value of BritBox may increase. To really make an impact during this original content-heavy age of streamers, though, it would perhaps have made more sense for the broadcasters behind BritBox to have waited a bit longer, and launched the service with a big original drama to rival The Crown to show it meant business. Launching without any major originals makes it feel slight compared to what you get from the other streamers right now for a similar amount – and with Disney Plus nearing its staggered two-year global launch, the competition is only going to intensify.
BritBox has a good angle, certainly, and it's not really trying to be the number one streaming service in your life. It's got potential – and we'll watch with interest to see how big the library gets, and if the service starts to feel like it's worth £6 a month.
- Find everything we know about BritBox right here