Streaming Wars: Free TV Fights Back

Streaming Wars: Free TV Fights Back


Liam Costello


Senior Manager

In a number of European markets Free TV services have joined forces to expand their presence with new or enhanced digital platforms. This is in addition to the alliances forged to develop and co-produce new TV content.

BBC and ZDF have a development partnership that has already brought ‘The Mallorca Files’ to multiple Show Tracker markets. ZDF is also part of the European alliance with France Télévisions and RAI that has produced TV shows including ‘Leonardo’, distributed internationally by Sony.

In June 2018, the Free TV broadcasters France Télévisions, M6 and TF1 announced their intention to launch a jointly-owned SVOD service in France as a direct rival to Netflix. SALTO was officially launched in October 2020 and reported subscribers of 200K after three months - although it is not known how many of these are fully paying customers.

New Scripted TV Series in France

Show Tracker reveals that the parent owners of SALTO have each reduced the number of brand-new scripted TV series that they have premiered on their own services since the launch of SALTO. In the ten months of 2020 ahead of SALTO’s launch, Groupe M6 premiered seven brand new international TV shows across its Free TV channels - Since SALTO’s launch they have only premiered four. Groupe TF1 has also notably decreased its Free TV acquisitions, with just one show since October 2020.

SALTO TV Show Premieres

As a premium service charging a comparable monthly fee to Netflix (SALTO’s basic tier is €6.99 for one simultaneous user), it is important to continually refresh its content offering, with a range of brand new and exclusive TV shows. SALTO has so far premiered 20 international scripted series with a varied mix of US and UK originating shows (as well as a few international co-productions).

SALTO has acquired five TV shows from ViacomCBS - more than any other distributor (Sony has sold four TV shows to the service to date). Paramount+ is expected to launch in France during 2022, at which point it would become a likely destination for more of the ViacomCBS catalogue. ViacomCBS has considered its ‘Showtime’ content to be a separate proposition from Paramount+, and has recently announced that it will join forces with Comcast to release a new SVOD service (‘Sky Showtime’) in 20 European markets next year. Despite this strategy put forward by the ViacomCBS leadership, other international markets with Paramount+ (Australia, Mexico) are hosting Showtime shows. France is not currently on the list of launch markets for this new service - Canal+ has been the home of Showtime in France since 2017.

Unlike SALTO which has no immediate plans to expand outside of its home market, Britbox (a BBC and ITV Studios SVOD joint-venture) is currently available in North America and Australia and actually launched in these international markets first. Britbox will arrive in South Africa later this year with a 25 additional market’s being considered. In the UK at least, Britbox is a vehicle for second window distribution for the service owners, with BBC and ITV Studios content making its way to the pay service following an initial Free TV premiere.

Britbox Acquisitions from BBC and ITV

Brand new scripted originals are limited at present with just three since the UK launch in November 2019 (‘Cold Courage’, ‘The Beast Must Die’ and ‘Professor T’). Each of these shows have been acquired by third party distributors, with no production involvement from either the BBC or ITV. Britbox has acquired 14 second windows in the UK for TV shows from All3Media. These include the Channel 4 success story ‘It’s a Sin’, which on release as a Boxset in January this year directed record traffic to their OTT platform All4, with in the region of 19M views. The link between Britbox and All3Media is clearly win-win, giving All3Media a second window outlet, and allowing Britbox to add significant volume to its content offering.

Distributors Selling Second Windows to Britbox

Britbox is mostly being utilised as a home for older archive content in the UK, and is perhaps therefore - unconsciously or not - targeting an older demographic. Newer TV shows that have premiered more recently on Free TV and have been made extensively available on the likes of the BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, have had long windows of availability and may not in themselves prove enough of a lure for consumers to pay an additional service fee. Britbox is investing in its own Originals to increase its appeal and will need to continue to invest in future. Internationally, Britbox can serve as an outlet for UK distributors to sell first windows. So far, ITV have pushed more first windows of their own shows to Britbox in North America than BBC Studios.

Collaboration between Free TV in new content partnerships is perhaps a more straight-forward evolution in their on-going relationship than the set-up of new video streaming services, often developing brand new TV series they can exhibit fully in their home market. New OTT ventures are far more complex - as each collaborator retains their own BVOD platform, it could be argued that they are trying for two slices of the same digital pie. The positioning of new subscription services is critical and must not devalue the owner’s existing Free TV output.

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