BRITISH BROADCASTING has launched its Netflix challenger Britbox to a deafening cry of "and?".
The joint venture from BBC and ITV added Channel 5 to its library ahead of launch (along with fellow Viacom channel Comedy Central) and in a literal 11th-hour move, Channel 4 announced that would also be participating, offering shows from its bouquet of channels and films from Film 4.
At launch, carriage is limited to mobile apps (iOS/Android), the web, Samsung Smart TVs, BT TV (which will offer the service free of charge), Apple TV (which offers it free for the first year) and and EE TV. A US version of the service has been operating for several years.
That means major platforms including Sky Q, Amazon Fire, LG Smart TV, Roku and Android TV aren't supported yet - there's not even a Cast facility in the mobile app.
So what will you get for your £5.99/m?
The UK launch library is a patchwork of classic British box sets and movies from the four broadcasters, with complete series available to stream in many cases for the first time - every surviving episode of Doctor Who is included, for example.
Although billed by the media as a Netflix competitor, its an unfair comparison at this stage. Britbox has committed to new programming, but the only thing available at launch is an "exclusive" episode of Midsommer Murders.
Hold us back - really. With this John Nettles, you are truly spoiling us.
The other big problem in becoming a Netflix rival is that unlike the US, UK customers are used to having their television for free, albeit with the cost of the licence fee. Britbox content will largely be made up of programmes that have "fallen off" catch up services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub.
Critics have argued that means we've already paid for the programmes, both through the licence and through the ads we watch and therefore we're paying twice.
In reality, it's a better comparison to say that this is an attempt to appeal to DVD and BluRay buyers - offering £6/m for the right to access on-demand content that would previously involve lots of plastic boxes clogging up your shelves.
Britbox is a new realisation of the abortive Project Kangaroo, which first attempted a service like this a decade ago. But Britbox is launching in a sea of other services from big hitters including Disney and Apple.
Whether it can survive will depend on how people warm to its content - but first, whether it can sort out its relative lack of availability. We've reached out to the stragglers to ask them about future launches of the service. µ
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