How BritBox carved out a niche in the streaming wars

i 2 Emily Powers headshot

You like British TV—even if you happen to don’t realize it.

For many years, British programming has loved huge success in the United States, with breakout hits resembling Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Physician Who, The IT Crowd, and extra. Even not directly, British reveals have influenced tradition stateside. There are the oft-cited variations resembling The Workplace, Veep, Shameless, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and Skins, the place each variations often coexist in their fandoms.

However then there some reveals so rooted in Americana, it’s straightforward to overlook they too had been based mostly on or impressed by British reveals: All in the Household (Until Loss of life Us Do Half), Sanford and Son (Steptoe and Son), Three’s Firm (Man About the Home), and Cheers (Fawlty Towers).

Whether or not it’s the reveals themselves or simply the format and plot, British programming has a maintain on American audiences—and niche streamer BritBox has been capitalizing on that.


As a three way partnership between the BBC and ITV, BritBox launched in the United States in 2017 as the premier vacation spot for British programming. Many speculated whether or not two TV titans from throughout the pond may collectively rival the likes of Netflix stateside—however that was by no means the intent with BritBox. As a substitute, BritBox was contending with different Anglophilic gamers resembling Walter Presents and Acorn TV (a service owned by AMC Networks, which additionally has a minority stake in BritBox), each of which had been already established with U.S. audiences.

Even inside that particular class, BritBox is a standout, with greater than 1.7 million subscribers. At the core of BritBox’s success has been tremendous serving an missed demographic of girls 45 and older who, by BritBox’s measure, are closely invested in mysteries and crime tales. “There’re a lot of [streaming services] out there who’re attempting to be all issues to all individuals. That isn’t who we’re,” says Emily Powers, EVP and head of BritBox North America. “We’re very a lot attempting to satisfy an unfulfilled demand for sure forms of content material to a sure demographic, and that’s been the key to our success.”

Though there may be a pernicious little bit of standard knowledge that the streaming giants will overwhelm extra tailor-made choices, there are various niche gamers proudly owning their communities in a means that an everything-to-everyone service by no means will. The Criterion Channel caters to cinephiles; Mubi, much more so with a heavier concentrate on curation. kweliTV focuses on Black content material. Shudder is for horror lovers. Crunchyroll is the vacation spot for anime followers.

“It’s not a lot a query of being one service,” says Seth Shafer, senior analyst for Kagan, the media analysis unit of S&P International Market Intelligence. “It’s, are you able to make your means into that bundle each month that customers put collectively?”

Because it turns out, audiences have gotten extra amendable to increasing these bundles. In line with a study revealed in December, U.S. customers now use seven video streaming providers, up from 5 in April 2020. The elevated willingness to tack on much more providers has made for a great atmosphere for niche streamers.

Emily Powers, Head of BritBox North America [Photo: courtesy of BritBox]

The streaming conflict already has its clear-cut winners in Netflix and Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Paramount Plus, and Peacock proceed to make strikes. What to observe now could be who occupies these 5 to seven slots, particularly if the bump in streaming subscriptions dwindles as the pandemic dies down.

“That’s the massive query,” Shafer says. “Are customers going to have the ability to proceed to assist all of those a number of providers on a month-to-month foundation shifting ahead?”


One strategy to capitalize on the momentum: create programming with broader (not alienating) enchantment. Right here’s how BritBox is making a strategic content material play.

Residing a lifetime of true crime

BritBox relied closely on BBC and ITV’s again catalog when it first launched in 2017. Having that direct hyperlink to licensing has been essential to BritBox’s success. “They’re a little bit Netflix-proof in that regard,” says Shafer. He compares it to DramaFever, which specialised in Korean dramas however “was mainly licensing all of its catalog and Netflix was capable of throw a lot of cash at Korean dramas,” he notes, which led to AT&T WarnerMedia shuttering it in 2018.

Provides Powers, “most of the different [streaming services] out there are taking content material from TV networks or movies which have been launched in the theaters, and their solely means of making one thing distinctive is to take a position in an unique. We’re in a very lucky place in that our pipeline of content material from our mum or dad firm has largely by no means been seen earlier than.”

Utilizing that leverage, Powers says BritBox may be extra focused in what originals they pursue. “We don’t need to throw ten issues at the wall and make investments a whole lot of thousands and thousands, and even billions, into originals like the massive gamers are doing,” she says. “We’re capable of be rather more calculated about it.”

A part of that calculation rests on Oscar-nominated writer-producer Jeff Pope.

In 2019, BritBox introduced a multi-series collaboration with Pope to lean into the platform’s thriller style however give it a true-crime twist.

Pope’s forthcoming reveals embody The Barking Homicides, starring comedian-writer Stephen Service provider as Stephen Port, aka “The Grindr Killer,” who claimed a minimum of 4 victims he met on the widespread homosexual courting app, and The Hatton Backyard Heist, a retelling of a 2015 heist in London carried out by six aged males.

“We’ve had some true crimes on the service in the previous, however we’ve by no means created a greater providing round it,” Powers says. “We’ve got that flexibility to check totally different extensions to our core viewers, as a result of it’s very carefully associated to the British mysteries that they know and love, however clearly with a totally different spin.”

Conceivably, Pope may’ve taken these initiatives to extra mass streamers. The Grindr Killer story definitely has large enchantment, as cautionary tales of courting apps are common. The Hatten Backyard job has already been tailored into three function movies. Add to that Pope’s credentials of being a British Academy Movie Awards (BAFTA) winner (Greatest Drama Serial, See No Evil: The Moors Murders) and an Oscar nominee (Greatest Tailored Screenplay, Philomena), and it will seem to be a comparatively straightforward pitch.

“There’s no query that Netflix and Amazon have deeper pockets,” he says. “But when BritBox continues to take a position in high quality, British drama, then that can be their hallmark. And which will deliver an ever-increasing share of the viewers to them. So I’m fairly completely happy to be a part of the delivery of BritBox.”


Previous reveals, new content material

Certainly one of Britain’s most seminal dramas to floor in the United States in current instances has been Downton Abbey.

Most viewers stateside acquired hooked on the Crawley household saga through Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu, which all licensed the present from ITV. Beneath new offers, Downton Abbey got here to each Peacock and BritBox in 2020.

A aim for Powers this yr is to determine out inject new life into legacy reveals. A technique has been to create ancillary content material. Unique to BritBox is Downton Abbey Extras, a sequence of 10-minute shorts diving into the historic authenticity, costume design, writing, and different points of the present.

“It provides individuals a totally different perspective on one thing that’s identified and beloved,” Powers says. “With our sequence Loss of life in Paradise, we’ve created forged intros to episodes the place they speak about one thing distinctive about the present. It’s a means for each our current viewers to have interaction in a totally different means, but additionally for brand new individuals to turn into launched to it. We’ve examined it out a few instances and located that our viewers may be very conscious of it.”

Make ’em snicker . . . a little

Certainly one of the more difficult programming areas BritBox is trying to construct out is comedy. BritBox has a wholesome providing of well-known British comedies resembling Completely Fabulous and The Workplace, and Powers is wanting as soon as once more to leverage the privilege of being as calculated as potential in what sort of comedy to pursue.

“British comedy is a difficult one,” she says. “It’s a fairly big selection of kinds, codecs, and viewers. One thing like that, we have to take a look at out a lot extra. There are specific comedies that ought to completely be a part of a service, however others could also be higher suited elsewhere. For me, it’s very a lot a test-and-learn scenario.”

Kenton Allen CEO, Large Discuss Productions [Photo: courtesy of Big Talk Productions]

Kenton Allen, CEO of Large Discuss Productions, at the moment has six reveals on BritBox (not BritBox originals)—Mum, Residing the Dream, Bliss, Chilly Ft, Rev., and The Job Lot—that principally skew as dramedies quite than out-and-out comedies or sitcoms.

Dipping extra into dramedies may very well be the proper transfer for BritBox because it seeks to seek out a comedy lane that’s a bit extra grounded for its older-skewing viewers. For Allen, having a associate with BritBox means he has an outlet to American audiences with programming, that, as he factors out, remains to be discovering darker British humor.

“I don’t assume that these reveals would have most likely discovered a residence wherever else at the level in which we began working with BritBox,” Allen says of his slate of programming on the service. “When BritBox launched, there actually weren’t that many locations in North America that might take British comedy. The world of Fleabag hadn’t occurred. So to have a small, nimble [streaming] startup service opening up in North America that was framed round British content material was extraordinarily engaging.”

Moreover, as a result of BritBox is smaller service, Allen feels as if his reveals get a higher push on the platform.

“In the world of high quality, not amount, I’d a lot quite have 2 million devoted followers of British comedy having access to our reveals, quite than it going out on a service with many extra followers however the reveals get misplaced,” he says. “If the present’s on BritBox, you realize the present’s going to be taken care of and it’ll be correctly promoted.”

As BritBox continues to ramp up its content material slate, one has to surprise how a niche service of its sort would fare, say, if Netflix determined to double down on unique British programming. The streamer has already seen large success with reveals resembling The Crown and Bridgerton.

“Somebody at BritBox may most likely make an argument that [those show] truly assist the firm, as a result of it surfaces higher consciousness of that style,” Shafer says.

And Powers did, in reality, make that argument.

“What excites me the most is that the addressable viewers continues to develop,” she says. “The overall urge for food for British content material has grown truly, due to the likes of Netflix. All that shines a gentle on British content material for individuals who would have by no means even thought to have a look at it earlier than. Each time that occurs, that grows my pool of addressable viewers. As soon as they understand they need to go to an atmosphere devoted to [British content], that’s the place we step in.”