Announcing annual results for ITV, chief executive Carolyn McCall reported that its online video subscription service BritBox “is ahead of plan, hitting half a million subscriptions in January 2021”. ITV reported that the BritBox service in the United Kingdom made a loss of £59 million in 2020, compared to a loss of £21 million associated with its launch in November 2019. So in 2020, BritBox lost an average of almost £120 per subscriber. That includes the cost of advertising on ITV and the acquisition of programmes from ITV Studios. It expects similar losses in 2021 and to be in the investment phase for several years.
The chief executive said that BritBox increased its subscriptions in the United States by over 50% over the year, saying ITV now has over 2.6 million subscriptions globally across its online services, including its launch in Australia, with other markets to follow.
Subtracting Hub+ subscribers and BritBox customers in the United Kingdom, that leaves BritBox with just under 1.7 million international subscribers in the United States, Canada and Australia.
BritBox passed 1 million subscribers in the United States and Canada in early 2020, reaching 1.2 million by August and 1.5 million by October. That suggests steady, if not spectacular growth.
The BritBox service is expected to extend to South Africa in 2021. The plan is to fund international expansion from its share of cashflow from BritBox in the United States, which it describes as a profitable service.
The BritBox operation outside the United Kingdom is an equal joint venture with BBC Studios.
In the United Kingdom, where BBC Studios has a 10% stake, there are plans to integrate BritBox with the ITV Hub “to make the transition to the service seamless”.
ITV Hub now claims 32.6 million registered users, an increase of 6% in a year. That is accounts that have been active within the last three years, not necessarily unique users or households.
The separate Hub+ subscription offering has around 410,000 subscriptions, which was similar to the previous year. Portable viewing across Europe ended at the start of 2021 as a result of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
The main ITV channel had its third biggest share of viewing in a decade, at 16.7%, although the share across the portfolio of channels was down 4% at 22.2%.
This is against a background of total television viewing up to 192 minutes a day, which is the first time that there has been growth in broadcast television viewing since 2010.
While total viewing of ITV was up by 1% in 2021 at 16.6 billion hours, online ITV viewing was down 5%, to 482 million hours, attributed to the lack of Love Island, fewer serial dramas and major sporting events. Excluding the loss of Love Island and soaps, ITV said online viewing was up over 5%. Nevertheless, online viewing represents less than 3% of all ITV viewing.
Total advertising revenue for ITV in 2020 declined by 11% to £1.58 billion, despite strong growth in online revenues, up 17%. In the second quarter, total advertising revenue was down 43%, the most severe decline in its history.
ITV experienced a 21% decline in total non-advertising revenues in 2020 to £1.68 billion, driven by a 25% reduction in revenue for ITV Studios due to loss of production during the coronavirus pandemic.
Total ITV group revenue for 2020 was £3.26 billion, down from £3.89 billion the previous year. Earnings were down 19% at £561 million.
With modest subscriber growth to date, compared to other online video subscription services, BritBox and ITV Hub+ have a long way to go to make any positive impression on the bottom line.