BritBox UK Review 2020: A Netflix Rival? Not Quite

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We’ve been talking about BritBox UK for many months, and it’s finally here. The joint streaming service from ITV and the BBC (with additional content from Channel 5, and Channel 4 later in the year) is now open to everyone, and you can start streaming quality British content… that you probably watched before.

(Note: This Britbox UK review was originally published on November 7, 2019, and has been updated for 2020).

When I originally published this review, BritBox was still in Beta – but now that it has officially launched, we can take a fuller look at what it has to offer – though even four months in, some features are still not available, and watching on an actual telly is only available on a limited number of devices.

With BritBox aiming to be the future of UK streaming, taking on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video head-on, I decided to take it for a spin, and see whether it stands a chance.

In this review of BritBox, I’ll take a look at the available content, the service’s features (and what’s missing), as well as try hard to understand who this service is actually for.

BritBox UK Grid

Quick Look – BritBox UK

Who is it for:  British TV lovers looking to stream past shows from the main UK broadcasters

Pricing: 30 Days Free trial, then £5.99/month.

Pros

  • A growing selection of British content from ITV, BBC and Channel 5 (Channel 4 coming sometime in 2020)
  • Classic British films
  • Streaming quality is great, mostly in HD
  • Bland – but effective – interface
  • Cheaper than Netflix

Cons

  • Very limited device availability for now
  • Plenty of popular BBC / ITV shows are missing
  • No original content yet
  • Can’t download content to your smartphone
  • A lot of the content doesn’t have subtitles (captions)

Summary

As a streaming service for devoted fans of British TV, BritBox does what it sets out to do, with plenty of available content. But it’s still far from being “the ultimate” British content library, it has far fewer titles in total than Netflix or Amazon Video, and much of its content has already been available – or still is – on other platforms.

What Is BritBox – And Who Is It For?

According to an Ofcom report published last year, 47% of UK homes have signed up to at least one streaming TV subscription service, and the five 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 and Amazon leading the pack, ITV and the BBC saw the writing on the wall – and decided to jump right into the streaming-TV pool, with a new 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 Comedy Central (with 1000+ titles from Channel 4 coming later in 2020).

BritBox recently added

For the moment, BritBox has programmes from the vast archive of the BBC and ITV, with new titles being added every week. Some shows are glaringly missing – in part because their streaming rights were sold to other bodies. (600+ classic episodes of Doctor Who are now on the service – but the new version, from 2005 onwards, is nowhere to be found)

In addition, BritBox doesn’t have any original programming for the time being – though exclusive shows are set to start appearing on it later in the year.

Interestingly, BritBox already has a US (and Canada) version that launched back in 2017, and offers BBC and ITV content to North American viewers. In the US, it costs $6.99/month.

So, who is the UK version of BritBox for? In my opinion, BritBox is going to struggle 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 is testing a separate All4+ service these days, which will give you access to Channel 4’s programmes without adverts – for £3.99/month.

BBC iPlayer full screenshot

And while BBC iPlayer used to be mostly a catch-up service, with shows only lasting for 30 days, this was changed this year, 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 currently feels like cold Sunday roast leftovers that were placed nicely on a gold dinner plate. Sure, it’s all shiny and exquisite and works well – but you’re still paying for leftovers.

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. Keep in mind that once the 30 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.

BritBox free trial screen

Remember, BritBox is a streaming-only service for now, so you’re not going to get it via a “traditional” Sky/Virgin Media/BT pay-tv subscription. And of course, you need a broadband connection to stream it.

However, a distribution deal signed with BT means that in the future, BT pay-TV subscribers will get it on BT’s devices as well.

As of this writing, using BritBox is limited to the following 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 (GX800 and above, GZ series, FX700B and above, FZ series, EX series, EZ series, DX series and CX series)
  • TVs Using The Vestel Platform (2017 and onwards – Toshiba, JVC, HITACHI, Bush, Digihome, Finlux, Logik, Luxor, Polaroid, Techwood)

As you can see, watching on a TV is still problematic for some. While we did finally get an Amazon Fire TV app, there’s no Roku app, or a Playstation/XBOX app, or a FreeviewPlay/YouView app.

Some of these are coming, though – as well as support for FreeviewPlay and YouView – so it will become easier to watch in your living room, but we’re not there yet.

If you a browser on your Smart TV (or another non-supported streaming device), you can use it as a workaround, to browse directly to BritBox and stream from there.

BritBox login screen on TV browser

It’s far from ideal – you have to to use the remote as a mouse, and as a keyboard, and some of the direct control buttons on the remote won’t work… but it does the job, and you can watch the content. Hopefully, though, they’ll add the missing apps soon.

When I did get to test out the BritBox Samsung TV app, it was decent and fairly easy to use – it looks identical to what you get on the web, with the same interface and categories, and the streaming quality was good. It does have some quirks though – subtitles, for example, don’t work sometimes (even on shows that DO have them).

BritBox app on a Samsung TV

Due to the collaboration with Samsung, the BritBox app even comes preinstalled (or gets installed on its own if you have an existing TV) – but again, this is only on Samsung Smart TVs from 2016 and onwards.

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.

Titles are divided into groups like “Recently Added”, “Most Recommended”, “BAFTA-Winning Boxsets”, etc’ – and you can also browse the categories – Drama, Comedy, True Stories, Reality, and more.

BritBox recommended on Fire TV

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” as well.

You can add your favourite programmes into “My List”, though it’s annoyingly hidden at the bottom of the main screen, with no other direct way of getting to that list (they must have taken a page of BBC iPlayer, which has the same annoyance.)

BritBox app mylist

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 worked well, both via broadband and a mobile data connection. There was minimal buffering, but for the first few seconds you’ll get a lower quality stream, until it buffers enough behind the scenes and the picture turns to HD.

Sadly, you can’t download programmes for offline viewing on your phone – something that’s available on practically every other streaming service. BritBox say they’re planning to add this feature in the future.

BritBox is still lacking, however, in one area that’s always near and dear to my heart – subtitles. While they do mention subtitles in the help section, and the technical ability is there (you’ll see a CC icon in the bottom corner when subtitles are available) – in effect, only some of the programmes have subtitles.

When I asked BritBox about it, they were quick to mention that they are “already meeting the Ofcom requirements for subtitles”, but more importantly, stated that they’re currently aiming to have subtitles on 90% of programmes by Christmas.

Well, guess what – Christmas has come and gone, and even four months BritBox’ official launch, many programmes still don’t offer subtitles (and weirdly, I’ve even noticed cases where some episodes in a season would have subtitles, while other episodes don’t).

With every other major streaming service out there already offering subtitles (even NOW TV, where it took ages), their current absence from BritBox is disappointing.

What Can I Watch on BritBox in the UK?

Content is being added to BritBox constantly. As of this writing, I counted 500+ titles on BritBox, with most TV programmes having multiple seasons. In addition, there’s a selection of classic British films.

At the moment, BritBox has content from ITV, the BBC, Channel 5 and the Comedy Channel. Programmes from Channel 4 will be added later in the year.

The categories are quite varied (within the limited number of titles) – 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.

Love Island on BritBox

The amount of content has almost doubled since BritBox UK’s launch, but the important thing to notice – which isn’t going to change anytime soon – is that this is mainly a catch-up and archive service.

You’re not going to find new programmes here (at least until they produce original content) – as those will always go to ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer first. So you’re basically paying for the option to watch older shows you might have missed when they originally aired (or weren’t even born yet…)

Interestingly, some of these programmes were available on ITV Hub before BritBox launched – and were then removed, possibly in order to make BritBox more appealing. The same goes for BBC iPlayer, though their removal period is pretty consistent.

Furthermore, some of these programmes are also available on other competing services (such as Netflix an Amazon Prime Video), and only some are exclusive to BritBox.

If you’re a British film buff, BritBox also have a collection of classic British films – from Hitchcock to The Ipcress File to The Company of Wolves – it’s not a huge collection, but it’s a nice bonus.

BritBox VS Netflix / Amazon Prime Video / NOW TV

BritBox is aiming to take the UK streaming market by storm… at some point. At this stage, however, it’s almost impossible to compare it to the competition.

Last August, Netflix UK had 1,493 TV titles and 3,722 movies. Amazon Prime Video had 1,406 TV titles and 15,651 movies.

BritBox currently has 500+ programmes.

You might say NOW TV 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 TV 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 are 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 titles, and – crucially – 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.

BritBox site screenshot

Bottom Line: Is BritBox Worth It?

While it’s still hard to judge BritBox this close to its launch, let’s remember you’re already getting charged – So if you’re asked to pay money for this – it should be judged for what it is right now.

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 – 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.

So, would BritBox be worth keeping for more than a couple of months? At its current state, it’s a No from me, unfortunately, simply because it doesn’t have enough enticing content, and sometimes feels like a half-baked service.

Will things change for it in the future? Quite possibly – but BritBox has its work cut out for it.