TV streaming bonanza looms for UK – but can you afford it?

The Guardian, by Mark Sweney
14th September 2019

Television viewers who want to watch a range of sport and popular shows, including Premier League and Champion’s League football, dramas such as The Crown, Line of Duty and Chernobyl, archive shows such as Gavin and Stacey and new content based on the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, face having to pay more than £120 a month by this time next year.

The global streaming phenomenon, that so far has been all about Netflix, and to a lesser extent its rival Amazon’s Prime Video, is about to get a whole lot more complicated – and expensive – as a new wave of subscription streaming services join the battle to win over TV fans.

Apple is launching its service, Apple TV+, on 1 November while Disney is launching its own service less than two weeks later.

By the end of the year ITV and the BBC will introduce Britbox, which will offer a best-of-British experience from Victoria to Love Island.Advertisement

Next year will herald the arrival of two more US-based streaming services, HBO Max and NBCUniversal. The new services are a part of a move by film studios and TV programme makers to sell their output direct to consumers, rather than through a service provider such as Netflix.

Each service will have separate content and those wanting to watch will have to sign up to a monthly subscription or annual fee.

The change means viewers will have to pay for multiple services to access the content they want, on top of fees for satellite and cable TV and the TV licence fee that funds the BBC.

HBO Max is part of Warner Media, which owns the film studio behind Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter, the DC Comics superheros including Batman and Superman, and HBO shows including Big Little Lies. In the US, Warner Media has taken back the rights to Friends, dealing a major blow to Netflix. The long-running saga is the most-watched show on Netflix.

Sky-owner Comcast will launch the NBCUniversal streaming service, taking back another big Netflix hit in the US version of The Office. It also owns the Universal film studio behind the Jurassic World and Fast and the Furious franchises.

The monthly bills of these two services in the UK have not yet been set, but they are likely to be £6-£8 a month – although Sky customers will get the NBCUniversal service either for free or at a very low cost.

The details of Apple’s new streaming service were unveiled last week. The mobile phone giant is selling fewer phones and expanding into services that customers will pay for every month rather than rely on big ticket phone purchases every two or three years.

Apple has earmarked $6bn to produce original programming over the next few years to make its service a must-watch. Star attractions will include Jennifer Aniston in her first TV series since Friends, a comedy-drama called The Morning Show with fellow A-listers Reece Witherspoon and Steve Carrell. The service will cost £4.99 a month, but be free for the first year for owners of Apple devices.

Streaming TV is about to get very expensive – here’s why

Disney’s service, Disney+, will officially launch on 12 November and is likely to start in the UK early next year, priced at £5.99 a month. It will offer content including the Star Wars films and original $100m TV series The Mandalorian; the Marvel universe, again including exclusive TV series spin-offs; Pixar films and family fare from Toy Story to Frozen; plus TV hits such as The Simpsons.Advertisement

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have amassed 240 million subscribers worldwide, with almost 20 million in the UK, with little opposition. The new services are roughly half the cost of Netflix, and designed to be cheap enough to crack the global duopoly without breaking the bank for viewers.

The £5.99-a-month Britbox will mostly offer archive shows, with some original commissions but without the budget of its international competitors.

Richard Broughton of media research firm Ampere Analysis said Britbox could struggle to find viewers willing to pay. “While the different streaming services are not all competing for the same audiences, Britbox is facing a bit of an uphill struggle because it is largely relying on a lot of content that has historically been watched free-to-air.”

When the next wave of services launch viewers will find they have never been so spoiled for choice, but the price of being able to enjoy all the best shows, films and sport on offer could add up to a wallet-busting £1,500 a year.

“It would be difficult for many households to justify spending £1,500 a year, it is higher than many rent and mortgage payments around the country,” said Broughton. “We suspect people will enter an era of switching from one service to another and back again when they spot new shows or get bored.”

Ampere reckons that there is space for a number of streaming services to do relatively well, attracting 1 to 2 million subscribers each, but Netflix and Amazon will remain the two biggest players over the long term.

“It is both a golden age of TV but also potentially nearing peak TV,” said Broughton. “There is far more content than anyone can hope to consume and with the costs involved the big question is whether it is sustainable.”

Costs of existing pay-TV and paid streaming services (without broadband, phone etc)

Sky TV £22 a month, £264 annually.
Adding Sky Cinema, Sports and Kids £30, £360.
Content Chernobyl, Riveria, Premier League

BT Sport £10, £120 (price if customer has BT broadband, £29.99 per month if not)
Content Some Premier League, exclusive Champion’s League

Netflix (standard tier): £8.99, £108
Content: Stranger Things, The Crown

Amazon Prime (based on cheaper annual tariff) £6.58, £79
Content Good Omens, Man in the High Castle, The Grand Tour

BBC TV licence £12.90, £154.50
Content The Bodyguard, Line of Duty, Top Gear

New launches

Britbox £5.99, £72
Content Love Island, Gavin & Stacey, Victoria

Disney+ £5.99, £72 (estimated)
Content Star Wars, Avengers, The Simpson, Avatar

AppleTV+ £4.99, £60
Content The Morning Show, shows from Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Spielberg

HBO Max £7, £84 (estimated)
Content Friends (US only, for now), Big Little Lies, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, the DC universe including Batman and Superman

NBCUniversal £7, £84 (estimated)
Content US version of The Office, films such as Jurassic Park and Fast and the Furious

Total £121 per month, £1,457 a year

Source: Ampere Analysis