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ITV, BBC's BritBox hits profit in North America, coming to more devices in UK

ITV PLC and British Broadcasting Corp.'s BritBox subscription streaming service has reached profitability in North America, ITV's subscription video on demand Group Director Reemah Sakaan said in an interview Dec. 5.

The streaming service, home to British shows and movies from the country's leading public service broadcasters, has added a significant amount of customers in the U.S. and Canada since hitting 650,000 subscribers in July, Sakaan said.

Though Sakaan did not divulge the exact numbers, she said it is "well ahead of our last announcement." ITV includes BritBox's profit or loss within the "Share of JV's and Associates" figure on its balance sheet. These recorded a loss of £2 million in the first half of 2019, but includes joint ventures other than BritBox U.S.

To help reach more subscribers in the United Kingdom, its domestic market, ITV is aggressively expanding the amount of devices that support BritBox, Sakaan said. By February, it plans to offer BritBox on smart TVs from LG Electronics Inc., Sony Corp., Panasonic Corp., and Hitachi. Support for Google LLC's Chromecast and Inc.'s Fire TV media players will follow, Sakaan said.

Currently BritBox is available on the web, Apple TV, Samsung Electronics' smart TVs, iOS and Android in the U.K.

The service costs $6.99 in the U.S. and £6.99 in the U.K., where it launched in November. It also includes content from Viacom Inc.'s Channel 5 and Comedy Central units and is set to add programming from fellow public service broadcaster Channel 4 TV, including films from its Film 4 Productions unit, in 2020. ITV holds a 90% stake in BritBox and is investing £25 million in the service in 2019 and £40 million in 2020. The BBC owns a 10% stake in the venture.

Sakaan said that ITV is in ongoing talks with additional content makers, distributors and free-to-air, or FTA, channels, including BBC Studios' comedy channel Dave, for more shows.

While BritBox's brand is distinctly British, with a focus on local programming, ITV is open to adding U.S. shows that fit its criteria, Sakaan revealed. She pointed to BritBox's exclusive series "Lambs of God," which was originally broadcast in Australia, as one such example of the service stretching its ambit.

"We are offering an authentically British service," Sakaan explained. "We need to live up to that promise and ensure that we are defined by that in the short-term.

"But we never say never [and would] consider U.S. shows that tell British stories that may not all be filmed in the U.K."

A research study commissioned by media regulator Ofcom previously predicted that BritBox could grab 2 million U.K. subscribers by 2023, alongside U.S.-based newcomers Disney+ and Apple TV+. Netflix Inc. is the top subscription streaming service in the U.K. with an estimated 9.9 million subscribers.