BT set to salvage Britbox as investment quibbles escalate

There could be an element of truth behind recent rumors that the Britbox streaming joint venture is experiencing some pre-launch trouble in paradise – with local telco BT reportedly attracted by the smell of blood to assist the BBC and ITV before things get messy on home soil. Of course, Britbox is already available in the US and Canada, while its UK debut is expected in the coming months.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world, with BT facing the prospect of a Comcast-backed Sky to compete with in video, broadband and mobile, while offering little in the way of OTT video itself other than a pretty basic TV Everywhere offering – buoyed only by the operator’s strong positioning in live sports.

And of course, the three outfits – BT, the BBC, and ITV – have all previously collaborated on the UK’s free-to-air service YouView, which BT has standardized on for its BT TV service, as has another local telco TalkTalk. Telco partnerships are invaluable for OTT video launches, more so perhaps in Asia Pacific than anywhere else in the world, but with 5G network roll outs arriving soon in the UK, tacking something like Britbox to a package at a discounted rate would be a surefire method of boosting initial uptake.

One projection from the supposed fall out and subsequent involvement of BT, is that similar broadcaster-fronted initiatives across Europe could encounter similar circumstances, and in turn be forced to buddy up with operators such as Netflix and operator superpowers like Sky and Vodafone as they grow yet more powerful across the continent.

But still, this doesn’t solve the reported fall out between the BBC and ITV regarding investments. Figures have not been given out by the Sunday Telegraph which published the report this week, although presumably BT is prepared to match what the BBC has currently fronted and in doing so allows ITV to lower its purported investment which apparently sparked the disagreement.

Two weeks ago, it was reported that the BBC and ITV were engaged in a quibble over funding, with the BBC failing to match ITV’s pledge of approximately $82 million by 2020, according to the Financial Times, claiming the BBC is preoccupied with its iPlayer streaming service. Let’s say for argument’s sake that the three parties agree on fronting $60 million each by 2020, so as to appease the BBC’s money worries and keep ITV happy without reducing the overall funding pot. That $180 million over two years could be wisely invested in content considering one of the BBC’s most successful exports to date – Planet Earth – cost $25 million to produce over five years. The BBC is reported to spend about $6.1 billion annually on content, according to the Huffington Post.

However, the BBC recently signed a deal granting Discovery exclusive streaming rights for existing BBC documentary series including Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Life, as well as collaborative efforts to produce new content for broadcast on the BBC – so a two-way agreement of sorts although no money appears to be going in the other direction. This 10-year deal was valued at $390 million, far exceeding anything the BBC has cashed in for its content in the past, so perhaps its stubbornness to reinvest in Britbox is a bit rich.

Britbox could launch as soon as July according to some reports, pushed back from an earlier proposed Q2 launch and in danger of being delayed until much later this year. Britbox is expected to cost £5 a month.

Ironically, for all the talks the BBC and ITV have engaged in before, Britbox has been the most likely to slide with regulators which have begun to appreciate how the tremendous uptake of SVoD services could decimate indigenous TV companies. The irony is that the BBC and ITV could derail the whole project themselves without regulatory intervention.