Reviews

What Went Wrong With… BritBox?

Screenshots of searches on BritBox showing all the missing content

BritBox is a very bland streaming service that’s “created by BBC and ITV” but seemingly cooked-up by a Brexiteer; someone who’s overly-impressed with our country but who’s failed to check what we have the rights to before waving the Union Jack. With its drab, dark grey interface and lacklustre content, this “Best Of British” creation seems to be geared towards fans of nostalgia and nationalism rather than fans of televisual classics. If you crave for a lot (but not all) of BBC, ITV and Channel 4‘s content, then forking-out £5.99 a month may sound like a good idea, but for most of us Brits, handing over any amount of cash for content we feel we’ve already paid for via the TV Licence fee or for programming that’s constantly repeated on TV throughout the year, isn’t a welcome prospect. There’s also the confusion of what’s on BBC’s iPlayer, ITV Hub, and Channel 4’s 4OD versus what’s on Britbox, and this is a concern that hasn’t dissipated. For instance, there’s no Brookside, there’s only a few Christmas Specials of Eastenders but there’s 56 series of Coronation Street to “catch-up” on, however long that may take you!

The only reason BritBox would be worth the subscription cost, would be access to all the classics of yesteryear. On the first day I subscribed, I excitedly searched for genuinely classic material: what most people would deem “The Best Of British”. These searches (see image above) were to no avail, and to my dismay; The Real McCoy, Cyderdelic, Bottom, The All New Alexei Sayle Show, Dennis Pennis, 15 Storeys High, It’s Kevin, The Fast Show, The Morgana ShowGarth Merenghi’s Dark Place, Early Doors, The Baldy Man, Burnistoun, Tim Vine Travels Through/In Time, Way Upstream, and even The Mighty Boosh were not available. At least there was The League Of Gentlemen, One Foot In The Grave, and Only Fools And Horses but these types of mainstream shows are already so popular in this country that they’re owned by any and everybody, and if not, they’re aired so many times in the year that you’re not in any great rush to see them again. Until BritBox’s owners realise what the public want to watch, they’re destined to be a British Apple TV+: a failure in the making.

The main problem with not only BritBox but all current streaming services, is we the customer want a broad range of content but the current compartmentalisation of companies means we have less variety for more monetary outlay. Back in the early years of streaming, I enjoyed watching something, let’s say, from the BBC, from AMC, and something from Pixar, all in one place… Netflix. But now, everyone’s jumping ship because every broadcaster and production company wants their very own profit-making service. What these money-hungry companies need to realise is we’re not fans of specific studios or TV channels, we have no allegiance to any of you. Nobody is thinking “I want access to all of Universal’s movies” or “I want everything Disney owns” (except for nerds and crappy parents perhaps). And who wants almost everything the BBC has ever made? No-frigging-body. BritBox may work oversees, let’s say in the U.S., but here in the U.K., I doubt there’ll be a huge demand for it.

Realising some of these problems, BritBox has created… wait for it… one exclusive show, which I assume is supposed to be similar to Disney+’s exclusive Marvel spin-offs. The sole Britbox Original is of course Spitting Image but the problem here is news gets old and current events are, err, current. I tried watching the old versions of the show and they were humourous enough, but viewing episodes decades after the satirical sketch has relevance makes little to no sense. In the updated version of Spitting Image, yes, the puppets of Priti Patel, Boris Johnson, and Harry Styles are funny but years from now will they have the same draw? It’s like watching repeats of Mock The Week on Dave; why would you bother once the news is old? On a side note, the character/puppet of Dominic Cummings for me, reminded me of the zany and quirky classic kid’s TV show Round The Bend, which unfortunately is not available on the platform. Add it to the ever-growing list.

Having said all this, I will admit there’s a decent amount of watchable content but during the 30 day free trial, you could conceivably watch everything that interests you. For instance, there’s a handful of very good films but for every Dog Soldiers, Nuns On the Run, and Boys From Brazil, there’s umpteen Under The Skin, Stratton, and Brassed Off-type shite to avoid. In terms of TV, there’s one series of The Lenny Henry Show but it’s inexplicably “series 4” 😕. There’s the aforementioned Spitting Image which is just as good as the original or rather the original is not as funny as I remember it. Either way, it’s worth a watch at least once. Thankfully, there’s better material buried under the heap of Corrie and Louis Theroux episodes. There is for instance, a Hammer Horror section (yippee!) but there’s only seven films (boo!). There’s also a section dedicated to Norman Wisdom (yeah!) in which there’s a mere four films (FFS!). This begs the question: what in the flying nostalgic fuck is the point in a “section” consisting of several movies? A looping thumbnail panel doesn’t trick you into thinking there’s more than there actually is, it simply irritates you.

A section containing looping thumbnails for Hammer Horror

The reason I started my subscription this Christmas, was to watch the overlooked and forgotten seasonal classic Bernard And The Genie but the picture quality wasn’t an improvement over the DVD I own. At least re-scan the original master tape or even upscale it but no, there’s noise and blips present like you’re watching an old VHS recording. Once finished, I was then told that “you might also like” Call The Midwife Christmas Special and Bergerac Christmas Special. Britbox’s tags seem to have been inputted by someone who’s not a fan of British telly at all. At least recommend something by Lenny Henry or Richard Curtis. 🙄

As soon as you see the home screen, you realise what BritBox is for: to reminisce. In the “BritBox Decades” section, there’s the 90s, 80s, 70s, etc. but seeing “everything” the UK has made in a given period of history lacks something if you do seek some nostalgia. It’s great there’s Father Ted and Brass Eye for instance, but the ’90s, at least in my mind, aren’t the ’90s without shows like The X Files and Quantum Leap but they’re too foreign for the likes of BritBox so you just end up unimpressed with what you’re offered. Invariably, if you’re a fan of something, you already own it, and if you don’t you don’t care about watching it on BritBox. In addition, I assume like Netflix and Prime Video, there will be licence changes. Your favourite content won’t always be there which means you’re better off with physical media.

To really get something out of BritBox you have to be at least over 40 years of age but even if you are, there’s masses of missing content you may recall from your youth. I have to say that it’s odd to gear a streaming service toward a generation who have a massive DVD library already. If you own boxsets from Network and the BBC, you have everything you need. Anyone between, let’s say 35 and 65, has spent years amassing a collection of their favourite TV shows and movies so why would anyone pay for something they already have? Most people will simply stick their DVDs into an app like Handbrake, make a legal backup of it and voila: they have their very own and superior version of BritBox. Couple that with channels such as Gold and Talking Pictures and this streaming service feels like a complete waste of money.

I signed-up for 30 day free trial and to be honest, after the first day of disappointing search results followed by browsing boredom, I didn’t watch it again for the entire month. Forgetting to cancel seems to be the only way this shitty streaming service will make any money. I watched it for maybe 1 or 2 days on and off, and given that it was the festive period, a time in which you have an abundance of spare time, this isn’t an indication of staying power. The only thing BritBox has achieved is collecting together the most famous and most forgettable stuff the British Isles have ever created. You don’t realise how much mundane crap the British broadcasters have made over the years until you subscribe.

Shitbox.

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