BritBox, the new “best of British” streaming joint venture from the BBC and ITV, will be shorn of classic homegrown series that are deemed to be inappropriate for modern audiences.
The new £5.99-a-month service, which will also offer shows from Channel 4 and Channel 5, is aiming to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video by positioning itself as the home of the widest library of British shows, old and new.
However, bosses have said a range of classic British shows, such as the BBC’s Till Death Us Do Part and ITV’s Love Thy Neighbour, will not appear on the service because of content deemed racist or otherwise unacceptable.
“[BritBox] is a selection [of shows],” said Reemah Sakaan, the senior ITV executive responsible for launching the subscription video-on-demand service. “We also recomply everything that goes on to BritBox [with modern TV viewing standards]. There’s also the ability to create bespoke warnings around key programming.”
Sakaan confirmed that Till Death Us Do Part, which first aired on BBC One in 1965 featuring the bigoted character Alf Garnett, and ITV’s 1970s series Love Thy Neighbour, a sitcom about a West Indian couple who move next door to a white English couple, will not appear on the service.
Beyond these two series there are numerous individual episodes of some beloved shows – including the BBC’s Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum – which could be deemed inappropriate for modern viewing. However, it is understood that no Fawlty Towers episodes will be cut from the service.
“We’ve carefully selected a wide range of the very best in British programming which will appeal to viewers in 2019,” said an ITV spokeswoman.
ITV’s compliance team is voluntarily vetting BritBox shows to make sure they adhere to the broadcasting code, which applies to the broadcaster’s TV channels and is governed by Ofcom, the media and communications watchdog. The broadcasting code includes strict rules relating to harm and offence and generally accepted standards, including inappropriate, explicit and violent content.
However, BritBox is officially subject to a much less stringent set of rules than those of traditional TV channels such as ITV and the BBC. The Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which covers Amazon Prime Video but not Netflix UK as its headquarters is in the Netherlands, has rules governing programming that is inappropriate for minors but no specific rules on issues such as racism.
BritBox is offering a huge range of shows from Downton Abbey, Gavin & Stacey and Wolf Hall to Broadchurch, Brideshead Revisited, Blackadder and more than 600 episodes of classic Doctor Who.
From January, Channel 4 will add more than 1,000 hours of its TV and film content to the service but it is not clear whether its biggest hit, The Great British Bake Off, will be available as the show’s producers have a separate streaming deal with Netflix. “We are making our [show] selections with Channel 4 as we speak and that is the kind of show that is top of our list,” said Sakaan.
BritBox is a late arrival in an increasingly crowded streaming market. Earlier this month Apple launched its new streaming service undercutting all rivals at just £4.99 a month, or free for a year to buyers of new Apple devices.
Netflix is the most popular subscription streamer in the UK with 11 million subscribers but it is now looking increasingly expensive with its most popular package priced at £8.99 a month. Prime Video is estimated to have 8.6 million UK subscribers, with Sky’s Now TV the third most popular service with about 1.75 million.
Sakaan took a swipe at Netflix, which has rung up debt and liabilities of more than $30bn (£23bn) in the process of building the world’s largest streaming service with more than 150m subscribers.
“For the first time all the UK’s public service broadcasters have joined forces to take part in the fast-paced streaming market,” she said. “We’ve got ambitious plans for BritBox. We are realistic and confident about establishing a scale business and unlike some of these [streaming] ventures we intend for this to be profitable.”
She said there was a gap in the market because UK audiences often felt “lost” using other streaming services dominated by US content. “In BritBox you are immediately in a world populated by people and faces and places you know. The scale of British content available eclipses what is on any other streaming service.”