Who’s watching streaming service BritBox as it celebrates a year in Canada? A lot of women over 50

Who’s watching streaming service BritBox as it celebrates a year in Canada? A lot of women over 50
Barbara Warrack is a 64-year-old retired music and drama teacher and school administrator from Winnipeg. Jennifer Clarkson, 65, lives in Fort Erie, Ont., and works as an agent for professional public speakers.

One thing they have in common is an appreciation for the streaming service BritBox, which is pretty much what its name suggests: a video-on-demand subscription service billed as the largest streaming collection of British television available anywhere.

Rowan Atkinson in Maigret, one of the more popular series on streaming service Britbox.  (COURTESY OF BRITBOX)

A collaboration of BBC Worldwide and ITV in the U.K., BritBox is celebrating its one-year anniversary in Canada on Thursday — Toronto, incidentally, is its No. 2 market — and Warrack and Clarkson are in the service’s demographic sweet spot: women over 50.

“It seems consistently that we have an audience that’s likely older, likely female,” says Soumya Sriraman, BritBox’s North American president. “It started off as maybe anomalous. Now we’re pretty certain that this is our audience, and we’re thrilled.

“It’s an audience that’s underserved in general in television media … Ratings are all around adults 18 to 49. That’s whom television has to serve.”

What about streaming giant Netflix, you might ask. It’s not beholden to the advertisers who drive broadcast TV’s focus on that 18-to-49 demographic.

“You come into our world; we’re very, very proudly and unabashedly the largest collection of British television anywhere,” but with roughly 250 programs on offer at any one time, “it’s manageable.”

BritBox launched in the U.S. in March 2017. It announced last month that it had surpassed 500,000 subscribers in Canada and the U.S., putting it ahead of its March 2019 target date, Sriraman says.

Granted, that’s but a drop in the bucket compared to the 139 million subscribers Netflix reportedly has globally, but Sriraman says she’s happy with the numbers.

“If you’d asked me four years ago I would have said it’s impossible to get seen,” next to a behemoth like Netflix, she says. “Today I’m so glad we chose this path of being something to somebody” instead of everything to everybody.

Warrack and Clarkson also subscribe to Netflix, and Clarkson streams shows on Amazon Prime and BritBox rival Acorn TV as well. They both say BritBox — which charges $8.99 a month or $89.99 a year — is money well spent.

“If you have a cable subscription, you’re paying a ridiculous fee and they … get you by making you pay for a group of stuff. Even if you have just an antenna or rabbit ears, you’re paying because you get all the commercials. This seems like a better value.”

“When you look at some of the other streaming services, they have a lot of good shows, but they have a lot of stuff geared to a younger crowd.”

Relatability is a big draw for both women, partly because of personal history — Warrack had a British grandmother she spent a lot of time with growing up and Clarkson’s husband was born in England — and partly because they enjoy seeing characters who look and act like regular people.

“There’s not a lot of Botox going on,” Warrack says.

The shows, she adds, are “extremely well written. Their actors are extremely well trained and prepared. They’re very well directed.”

A BritBox offering both she and Clarkson say they enjoy is Maigret, a remake of a 1990s series that stars Rowan Atkinson, more familiarly known for the comedies Blackadder and Mr. Bean, as a French detective in 1950s Paris.

Another favourite of hers is Vera, a detective drama starring Brenda Blethyn that reminds her of Murder, She Wrote. And the documentaries are amazing, she adds. “They had a great one on Churchill, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen on Churchill … I thought I knew a lot, but I learned all sorts of stuff.”

Warrack also mentions Vera, plus detective dramas Waking the Dead, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders and Prime Suspect; the period drama Cranford, starring Judi Dench, and the comedy Rev., which features recent Oscar nominee Olivia Colman.

Detective shows, unsurprisingly, are a big hit on BritBox. Sriraman lists Morse, Miss Marple, Inspector Lynley and Poirot as favourites, but Maigret has recently become a top draw as has Dark Heart, BritBox’s first original drama.

BritBox has a subcategory that Sriraman says sets it apart from other streamers, a feature called Now that allows subscribers to see current British shows sometimes within minutes of their U.K. airing.

“It’s been a technological challenge but also very rewarding,” she says.

Warrack figures she’ll keep her BritBox membership past the year her husband paid for as long as they keep adding new shows.

“I would recommend it highly to anybody who is looking for a different kind of entertainment model because, seriously, the Americans, they don’t hold the conch on everything.”
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