BritBox International Reaches 3 Million Subscribers, Celebrates ‘Super Successful’ BAFTAs Simulcast (EXCLUSIVE)

BritBox International has reached three million subscribers across its eight international markets, Variety can reveal.

The “best of British” streamer, which is backed internationally by BBC and ITV, has reached its latest milestone across the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. (The service launched in the U.K. in November 2019 but split off from the global operation in 2022 and is now integrated into ITV’s streaming offering, ITVX.)

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“Through what’s been a really challenging time for lots of SVODs, we’ve grown by 15% this year, which certainly exceeds that category growth for the U.S., and lots of our competitors in that set,” Reemah Sakaan, the London-based CEO of BritBox International, tells Variety.

BritBox last revealed subs of 2.6 million in March 2022, and prior to that, 2 million in July 2021 and 1 million in March 2020. In the last year, the service has launched in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, and struck new distribution partnerships with Amazon Prime Video and Apple channels across Australia.

The service’s most comparable rival in the U.S. is Acorn TV, which was launched in 2011 and similarly trades in U.K.-centric programming. Parent company AMC doesn’t break out subscriber numbers for the service, but revealed earlier this month that it ended 2022 with 11.8 million paid streaming subscribers across all of its targeted streamers: AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, ALLBLK and HIDIVE.

Sakaan details taking a “really measured approach” around BritBox’s market roll-out. While the service now has a decent footprint in its new territories of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland — “British content-seeking, U.K.-affinity audiences,” as Sakaan calls them — the 2017 launch market of the U.S. remains “the engine room of our growth,” says the executive.

“That scale allows us to really use [the U.S.] as the flywheel for investment, and [it’s] where we go to get most of our new subscribers,” she notes. “That said…even in our more mature four or five businesses, we’ve still got lots and lots of headroom for growth.”

That growth will come from further expanding into existing audiences, as well as widening the content slate to include new contemporary pieces, crime programs and period pieces, such as the forthcoming “Confessions of Frannie Langton.” The streamer has also ramped up its international co-productions, coming in as the U.S. partner and co-producer on shows such as “Stonehouse” and “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”

“That opening-up of the aperture beyond mystery to a broader and probably more reflective British content offering has really, really helped to bring in new audiences,” says Sakaan.

Other shows on the slate include “Archie,” starring Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant; “Payback,” starring Morven Christie and Peter Mullan, from Debbie O’Malley; “Passenger” from Andrew Buchan; and “Three Little Birds,” from Sir Lenny Henry.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing is moving upstream, and getting in on those projects early for the right project,” says Sakaan. For other titles, Sakaan says her team keeps a “list of year two acquisition opportunities” that arise.

The former BBC and ITV executive also points to live events as a driver for growth. The streamer was the exclusive U.S. home for the BAFTAs, and was “as close to simulcast as we can possibly get,” says Sakaan, noting it was a “super successful” weekend for the service. The British awards ceremony was also made available on BritBox in Canada, South Africa and the Nordics.

“Even for a very small, targeted streamer, we’ve always jumped on live for those events. It’s the capability that we’ve had from day one that’s always been the real jewel in the crown in terms of being able to switch on those big popular cultural moments from the U.K. in a very sort of live and direct way,” says Sakaan.

She adds that, despite BritBox’s parent companies being two of Britain’s biggest broadcasters, there are “no special favors” in securing BBC and ITV shows for the U.S. market.

“That’s part of what I’ve been doing over the last 18 months in setting up quite a standalone organization with its own operating functions, commissioning and acquisitions team and market-appropriate commissioning and acquisitions budget,” says Sakaan. “We absolutely have to compete as much as anyone else.”

The last 12 months have seen a vast change in content availability, how far in advance people are commissioning, the nature of how deals are structured, and how upstream people are having to go, says Sakaan.

“We remain really agile to be able to jump on the right projects,” she says. “That’s what 3 million [subscribers] really allows you to do…[Shows] absolutely get our undivided attention and we focus huge marketing and comms support around them.”

As for the next market expansion opportunities, BritBox — like most media companies — remains cautious about growth in 2023 given the macroeconomic headwinds at bay. It’s likely the service will focus on its eight international markets for now, with an eye on growing into other Western European markets in due course, and potentially even Asia down the line.

“We’re still looking at the markets that would be obvious in terms of where next, but the pace of those over the next few years really depends on where we see the opportunities and where we see the market moving,” says Sakaan. “We react and build business cases to the markets as opposed to saying we have to be in a set number of markets for a certain number of time.”

(Pictured: “Stonehouse”)

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