New collaborations emerge as public broadcasters face up to challenge posed by online and OTT TV competitors.

Streaming video on demand (SVOD) is on the rise, with organisations like Netflix and Amazon all expanding their footprint worldwide. Now, with the advent of Smart TVs and over-the-top TV (OTT TV) as well as growing investment in content, these digital players are competing more directly with public service broadcasters (PSB) than ever before.

The problem is, how do PSBs respond and maintain relevance? There is certainly an issue of scale. Netflix boasts 100million users and an $8billion programming budget for 2018. This will result in 700 new shows and 80 movies in a budget that is worth almost five times more than that of the BBC, one of the world’s largest PSBs.

To compete with the sheer size of these behemoths, PSBs across Europe are starting to partner and collaborate, both in terms of content production and platform.

France Télévisions, Rai & ZDF

Amongst the first to announce a transnational collaboration were France Télévisions, Italy’s Rai and German broadcaster ZDF in the form of a co-production alliance. Its aim is to pool finances to produce a range of high-end content across a range of genres, including drama, documentaries and other entertainment for the international market.

Other regional PSBs such as Spain’s RTVE and Belgium’s RTBF and VRT have also been invited to participate on a project-by-project basis. According to Worldscreen, the pact will help to ensure that linear and nonlinear television rights will remain within European PSB services.

Despite concerns, the alliance acknowledges that it won’t be able to reproduce the Netflix model and instead aims to reinforce the production of content for European audiences. Speaking to Digital TV Europe, France Télévisions director-general, Delphine Ernotte, said:

I think that we have to move towards one or two [SVOD] platforms, but we can’t reproduce the model of Netflix because that doesn’t match our political or economic basis, but I would say that we have the means to build an ecosystem that has, for its sole objective, to support European content creation – that’s what I’m fighting for and this is the ideal moment.”

BBC, Channel 4 & ITV

Earlier in May, it was reported that broadcasters BBC, Channel 4 and ITV were holding early discussions about launching a British streaming service to rival dominant SVODs.

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have 8.2m users and 4.3m household subscriptions in the UK respectively. In addition, the BBC recently conceded in its Annual Plan that its dominant market position is threatened by the fragmentation of the 16-24 year-old audience, who now spend more time on Netflix than all BBC services combined.

The idea for a new combined platform, however, is nothing new. Plans to launch a joint service called “Project Kangaroo” was cancelled by the UK’s Competition Commission in 2007 on the grounds that it posed too much of a competitive threat to the video-on-demand (VOD) market. Many have since argued that this decision left the market wide open to US streaming services.

Now, all options are on the table as early negotiations take place. One option could be to expand the Britbox service that the BBC and ITV co-launched in the US, which provides American audiences with British content.

Whatever form it takes, familiar hurdles will certainly raise their heads. These include rights issues – Channel 4 doesn’t create its own content – and the matter of competing platforms, with each broadcaster wanting to promote their own catch-up service (BBC iPlayer, All 4 and ITV Hub) as the master brand.

Yet compared to Project Kangaroo, the need for collaboration is far more pertinent considering the current competition from SVODs. This, and an initial verbal backing from regulator Ofcom, could focus the three broadcasters ton overcoming previous hurdles in more creative ways.

Public and commercial team up

 If competition and rights are an issue for UK broadcasters, perhaps a solution can be found in Spain. Here, public broadcaster RTVE and commercial broadcasters Mediaset España and Atresmedia are preparing to launch a joint interactive platform called LOVEStv.

The service will initially be based on Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV), with ambitions for OTT TV, as reported by Digital TV Europe. According to a joint press release, the aim of the collaborative venture will be “to improve the diversity, the quality of free television [offerings] and user experience through the services and functionalities offered by the HbbTV technology”.

The service will offer access to content from all three broadcasters as well as catch-up options, an updated TV guide and other interactive features. It will launch on a trial basis on 14 June.

For the public

Ultimately any collaboration including PSBs needs to provide value for the public they are accountable to. This is exactly the ethos that led to the formation of the ‘Nordic 12’, a streaming service launched by Scandinavian broadcasters DR, NRK, SVT, RÚV and YLE in April 2018.

The service will enable greater collaboration and decision-making  in content production between all five PSBs, with finalised content being available on each broadcaster’s stand-alone streaming service. It will also allow the pooling of the best Nordic talent, with the hope of producing 12 high-quality dramas from across the region every year.

Speaking to Nordisk Film & TV Fond, DR’s General Director Marie Rørbye Rønn said: “Drama is the obvious way to reach the Nordic users with content that is about our shared culture and identity, that can bind the Nordic countries across languages and generations. When we, as public service providers, stand together in the Nordics, we simply stand stronger and offer better [value] to the viewers.”

Collaborations between national and regional PSBs have the potential to reinforce their fundamental roles as the media landscape changes. By working together and pooling resources it is hoped that PSBs can ensure the continued production of quality, relevant and diverse local content for audiences, while also attracting those from elsewhere – working together to ensure sustainability.

Header image: The building of France Télévisions in Paris. Credits: Patrick Janicek/Creative Commons