BBC takes control of UKTV channels as Discovery lines up new streaming service

James Warrington
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Discovery will launch a new streaming service for BBC shows such as Planet Earth, which is narrated by David Attenborough (Source: Getty)

The BBC will take control of UKTV channels as part of a deal with Discovery that will also see the launch of a new on-demand video service for BBC nature programmes.

BBC Studios - the broadcaster’s commercial arm - jointly owns UKTV with US media giant Discovery.

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The BBC will now take control of seven UKTV channels, including Dave, Gold and Yesterday, while Discovery will operate Good Food, Eden and Really.

The BBC will pay £173m for the channels, including £70m of debt, and Discovery will also receive a share of UKTV’s dividends worth at least £10m.

As part of the deal, Discovery will also launch a new on-demand video service for the BBC’s natural history and factual programmes.

The companies have signed a ten-year content partnership that will give the new streaming service rights to hundreds of hours of factual programming, including the wildly popular Planet Earth series. However, the platform will not be available in the UK and Ireland.

In addition, BBC Studios has signed a development deal to create new factual shows for Discovery.

BBC director general Tony Hall said: “This is our largest ever content sales deal. It will mean BBC Studios and Discovery will work together to take our content right across the globe through a new world-beating streaming service.”

The deal, which has been in the pipeline since last year, helps to simplify a complicated licencing arrangement for the public service broadcaster, which currently receives more than £50m from UKTV for the rights to a back catalogue of shows such as Top Gear and Dad’s Army.

The move comes as the public service broadcaster prepares to launch Britbox - a joint streaming service venture with ITV - in a bid to take on Netflix.

“With this move, the BBC has today smartly locked down an impressive library ahead of its Britbox launch - while also preventing its competitors from being able to access it,” said Dani Warner, TV expert at uSwitch.

“It is sure to be just the corporation’s latest step towards being in a position to fully compete with its global streaming rivals,” she added.

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But the deal could spell trouble for rival broadcaster Channel 4, which handles UKTV’s advertising business.

It is understood Channel 4 will continue to represent the broadcaster’s TV advertising, but it is not clear whether Discovery will switch to its current partner, Sky, once the existing contract comes to an end.