More than two years after its launch, BritBox is now a major streaming service in the UK – at least in terms of the amount of content it offers, if not for its number of subscribers – and can be the answer for those who love British television, and nostalgic TV in particular.
BritBox UK is a joint streaming service from ITV and the BBC (with additional content from Channel 5 and Channel 4), which aims to be “the home of British TV”, with a lot of content you probably watched before, as well as a few originals.
When I originally published this review back in 2019, BritBox was still in Beta – but things have changed a great deal since then (and some annoyingly remained the same), so it’s time to review the service again, and whether it’s at a better spot today to take on the likes of Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video.
(Note: My first Britbox UK review was originally published on November 7, 2019, and has been updated for 2022).
Quick Look – BritBox UK
Who is it for: British TV lovers looking to stream past (and some new) shows from the main UK broadcasters.
Pricing: A Free trial, then £5.99/month or £59.99/year.
- A growing selection of British programmes from ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5
- Classic British films
- Streaming quality is great, mostly in HD
- Cheaper than Netflix
- Available on most popular streaming devices
- Plenty of popular BBC / ITV shows are still missing
- Very few original programmes
- Some of the apps are slow and buggy
- No Freeview Play app yet
As a streaming service for devoted fans of British TV, BritBox does what it sets out to do, with plenty of available content. And although much of its content has already been available (or still is) on other platforms, it is close to being “the ultimate” British content library. But if you’re looking for NEW stuff to watch – you might have to go elsewhere.
Table of Contents
What Is BritBox – And Who Is It For?
According to a recent Ofcom report, streaming services were used by 60% of all UK households by Q3 2020, and the traditional UK broadcasters are losing ground when it comes to spending time in front of the TV.
With streaming TV taking over the market, and American giants like Netflix, Amazon and Disney leading the pack, ITV and the BBC saw the writing on the wall – and decided to jump right into the streaming TV pool, with their streaming subscription service – BritBox.
BritBox is therefore a joint venture (ITV owns 90%, and the BBC owns 10%), which curates content from the two founding broadcasters, as well as Channel 5 and Channel 4.
BritBox has programmes from the vast archive of the four public broadcasters, with new titles being added every week. Some shows are STILL glaringly missing – partly because their streaming rights were sold to other bodies, or maybe because BritBox needs to keep a flow of content, and can’t drop everything at once.
In addition, BritBox is still weak where it comes to original programming, with one hit (the Spitting Image reboot), and a few titles that didn’t make a big splash so far, such as crime dramas The Beast Must Die and Magpie Murders.
Interestingly, BritBox also has a US (and Canadian) version that launched back in 2017, and offers BBC and ITV content to North American viewers. In the US, it costs $8.99/month.
So, who is the UK version of BritBox for? Two years in, BritBox is still struggling with that question – especially at £5.99/month.
Let’s not forget – both ITV and the BBC already have their “answer” to streaming TV – the ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer. ITV even offers a paid ITV Hub+ version, at £3.99/month, where you get all the ITV catch-up shows (and some past shows) without ads.
Even Channel 4 has an All4+ service these days, which gives you access to Channel 4’s programmes without adverts – for £3.99/month.
And while BBC iPlayer used to be primarily a catch-up service, with shows only lasting for 30 days, this has changed, as the BBC got permission to keep shows on iPlayer for at least 12 months.
So where does BritBox fit into all of this? It sometimes feels like it has to serve two masters – catering for new paying subscribers by promising “The Best of British”, while trying not to cannibalise BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub too much.
How Can I Watch BritBox In The UK?
First, you’ll have to register for the free trial, which you can do on the official site. The trial length changes occasionally – sometimes they offer 30 days, and sometimes it’s 7 days.
In any case, keep in mind that once the free days are up, you WILL be charged £5.99/month – but you can cancel at any time – here’s a step by step guide on how to cancel BritBox.
Remember, BritBox is a streaming-only service, so you’re not going to get it via a “traditional” Sky/Virgin Media/BT pay-tv subscription (and the app isn’t currently available on Sky Q and Sky Glass). And of course, you need a broadband connection to stream it.
Although BritBox had availability issues, things are much better now – and as of this writing, you can find BritBox on these devices:
- Smartphone/Tablet App (both iOS and Android)
- On the web (via your browser)
- Amazon Fire TV
- Google Chromecast
- Apple TV
- Samsung TVs (Only on ‘smart’ models from 2016 and upwards)
- Panasonic Smart TVs (Premium ranges since 2015 including CX, DX, EX, EZ, FZ, GZ, HZ, FX700 & above, GX800 & above, HX800 & above)
- TVs Using The Vestel Platform (2017 and onwards – Toshiba, JVC, HITACHI, Bush, Digihome, Finlux, Logik, Luxor, Polaroid, Techwood)
- YouView (including BTTV and TalkTalk TV, on devices since late 2014)
- Some LG and Sony TVs
- Manhattan T3-R Freeview Recorder
As you can see, there’s no support for Freeview Play devices yet (though Manhattan did add it as a standalone app to their T3-R recorder).
There’s a workaround, however – if you have a device with the Amazon Prime Video app – you can subscribe to BritBox as Prime Video Channel, making it available on a lot more devices (including Sky Q and Sky Glass).
Keep in mind that if you sign up to BritBox via Amazon Prime Video, you’ll have to use it via the Prime Video app everywhere else – and vice versa (so you also can’t sign up on the BritBox site, and then watch it as a Prime Video Channel).
Generally speaking, most of the BritBox standalone apps look and behave similarly on all streaming devices, with the Prime Video Channel version being quite different – not in terms of content, but in how it looks and behaves.
The BritBox Interface – What’s It Like To Use?
The interface is effective, if bland – if you’ve used any streaming service before, you’ll recognise those rows of thumbnails.
However, the apps are pretty full of errors and bugs – which is shameful, more than two years after the BritBox launch (I mostly tested things on the Fire TV version of the app, the new Roku app, and on Samsung TVs). The Roku app seems to be a bit more stable – maybe because it’s more recent.
Titles are divided into groups like “Recently Added”, “Most Recommended”, “BAFTA-Winning Boxsets”, “Best of ITV”, etc. – and you can also browse the categories – Drama, Comedy, True Stories, Reality, and more.
If you started a programme and haven’t finished it, you’ll also see it under a “Continue Watching” row. And if you have finished an episode, the next one in the series will then wait for you under “Continue Watching” (at least in theory – sometimes the service ‘forgets’ you finished an episode).
You can add your favourite programmes into “My List”, which is a pretty essential feature – but weirdly, the “My List” section disappears sometimes, and you have to completely reset and rerun the app for it to return.
Sadly, there are no user profiles – so you can’t have separate watch lists for different members of the family, and if your husband watches an episode without you, it’ll get marked as ‘Watched’ for the entire account.
Streaming works well, both via broadband and a mobile data connection. There was minimal buffering for me, but you’ll get a lower quality stream during the first few seconds, until it buffers enough behind the scenes and the picture turns to HD.
You can download content on iOS and Android devices, and keep them on your device for up to 30 days. Once you start watching, you have 48 hours to finish (though you can usually delete and download again if you need to).
BritBox used to be lacking where it came to subtitles, but I’m happy to say things have improved, and most of the content now comes with optional subtitles.
The series pages also have their quirks and miscategorisations: I noticed programmes where BritBox told me there were two seasons – because it categorised a page of trailers as Season 2. In another case, the Pilot episode was marked as Series 1 for some reason.
The BritBox app (on the Fire TV in particular) reminded me of how unstable and buggy ITV Hub is – and perhaps both of them come from the same people. It’s a shame – because most streaming services are shiny and slick these days, and then you go into BritBox and find out your watchlist disappeared, or that you’re starting the same episode again by mistake.
Hopefully, as BritBox grows up, these things will get fixed – as it is, the app just feels unstable.
What Can I Watch on BritBox in the UK?
Content is being added to BritBox constantly, but there are already hundreds of programmes, thousands of episodes and a large collection of classic British Films.
The categories are pretty varied – from ancient drama series (House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice, Inspector Morse) to classic British comedies (A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Absolutely Fabulous, Black Adder), more modern classics (Downton Abbey, Broadchurch), as well as newer reality shows like Love Island and The Only Way Is Essex.
They’ve also gotten better with getting new programmes shortly after their original on-air broadcast. So Series 4 of Unforgotten, for example, popped up on BritBox almost instantly after it finished its run on ITV.
But there’s still this weird symbiosis with ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer – some programmes are “Exclusive to BritBox” (so they probably WERE available on one of the other platforms – but not anymore), while some are marketed as being available “Ad-Free” (though you can also get them ad-free by paying for ITV Hub+ or All4+).
And some BBC programmes remain on iPlayer, and don’t port over to BritBox at all (at least not for a long while).
Furthermore, some of BritBox’s programmes are also available on other competing services (such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video) – though those are slowly disappearing.
So while it’s convenient to have so many British programmes on one single streaming service – there’s still a very good chance you’ve already seen them before on FREE platforms, and they might still be there.
Then there’s also the original content from BritBox. It’s a start, but those original programmes are still few and far between, so it’s not something that will entice you to subscribe, with Spitting Image possibly being the only ‘big name’ that managed to pull some new subscribers in so far.
BritBox VS Netflix / Amazon Prime Video / NOW
BritBox was aiming to take the UK streaming market by storm… at some point. But even now, it’s almost impossible to compare it to the competition.
In the first quarter of 2021, Amazon Prime Video had 41,000+ hours of content, and Netflix had 38,000+ hours of content. And while I don’t have an accurate number for BritBox – their number is obviously considerably lower.
You might say NOW is a closer competitor, with several hundred TV titles in its Entertainment Pass, but their emphasis is different – they focus on newer, highly-talked about American shows, and less on older library content. (Plus, NOW have struck a deal with Channel 5 to add 300 hours of content – perhaps as an answer to BritBox).
So if I had to compare BritBox to anything, it’s to something like Shudder (A horror movies subscription service) – a niche service that’s aimed at a very specific crowd, with very specific tastes – British content in this case.
And indeed, that’s what BritBox is focusing on, saying that BritBox has “The biggest collection of British boxsets in one place, compared to any other SVOD service”.
In the future, once BritBox adds more exclusive content and original productions – then MAYBE it’ll pose some competition to the streaming giants. Until then, it’s very much a niche service.
Bottom Line: Is BritBox Worth It?
So, is BritBox worth £5.99/month? If you like British TV, and there are at least a few shows on there that you want to watch – then sure, hop on for a month or two (It’s a shame they don’t let you see what shows are on without actually registering first, though – almost no other service does that).
That’s the beauty of cord cutting and streaming subscription services – you can subscribe for one or two months, and then cancel.
But would BritBox be worth keeping for more than a couple of months at a time? Only if you’re a huge fan of British TV, and you want to get it all in one place (without having to hop between iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, etc.)