The BBC and Discovery, the US media group, have struck a deal to pool their vast natural history and wildlife programming libraries in a new global subscription streaming service aimed at viewers from the Netflix generation that have embraced on-demand viewing.
The project is part of a new partnership between the two broadcasters and comes as they prepare to divide the free-to-air and pay channels operated by UK TV, the broadcaster jointly owned by Discovery and BBC Studios, the BBC’s commercial arm.
The wildlife streaming service will be owned by Discovery, with the BBC licensing its entire library of natural history programming, including those presented by David Attenborough which have been such a hit with viewers, such as Blue Planet and Dynasties.
The untitled service will not be available in the UK and China, but will be available in all other big international markets. It could be announced within weeks, according to several people briefed on the plans. BBC Studios and Discovery declined to comment.
The natural history service comes at an important juncture for the BBC. It has embraced digital streaming, with its iPlayer catch-up service receiving 3.6bn streaming requests for 2018. The first episode of its autumn hit Bodyguard was streamed almost 11m times.
But it and other broadcasters are grappling with new competition from the likes of Netflix and Amazon. The publicly-funded BBC is also facing a possible financing crunch that could kick in if it decides to continue funding free television licences for people over the age of 75. Responsibility for the scheme passes from the UK government to the BBC next year.
Discovery is one of the US’s largest media groups and has made a big push into streaming, developing new digital platforms aimed at particular sports and communities. Last year it struck a 12-year deal worth $2bn with the PGA Tour to create a “Netflix of golf” streaming service that would be available in every country outside the US.
Programming from its Animal Planet network, Discovery Channel and Science Channel will be available alongside BBC natural history content on the streaming service, according to people briefed on the discussions.
Tony Hall, the director-general of the BBC, recently told the Financial Times that streaming represented “the way people will consume the BBC in the future”, adding that the iPlayer was “no longer a catch-up service . . . it’s a destination”.
The BBC hopes to build on the success of iPlayer with a new streaming service for the UK market, which it is developing with ITV. The service will feature programming from both broadcasters.
The BBC is already a partner with ITV in BritBox, a US streaming service that features programming from both broadcasters — and which will form the basis for the new, UK subscription offering they are developing.
It is unclear who will run the new natural history streaming service, although two executives from the BBC and Discovery have been in the news recently after they both turned down the Premier League chief executive job.
Tim Davie, the chief executive of BBC Studios, was offered the Premier League job last month but turned it down. That followed Susanna Dinnage, the chief executive of Discovery’s Animal Planet accepting the Premier League job before withdrawing from the position shortly afterwards.
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