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AMC Networks brings BBC News channel to free streaming services

Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, as it appeared in 2014.
Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, as it appeared in 2014. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

AMC Networks and BBC Studios are bringing the 24-hour international channel BBC News to free, ad-supported streaming platforms in the United States.

Starting this week, BBC News will land on Dish Network’s Sling Freestream, Samsung TV Plus, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV, Comcast’s Xumo Play, Vizio’s WatchFree Plus and Plex.

AMC has the exclusive distribution license to BBC News in the United States, with the channel mostly available on cable, satellite and some streaming cable TV replacements over the past decade. The addition of BBC News on free, ad-supported streaming services marks the first time the channel has been offered in the United States beyond the traditional pay TV bundle.

“This is a significant milestone for the BBC as this launch will more than double the current reach and availability of the BBC News channel in the U.S. at a time when access to independent news and information is more important than ever,” Tara Maitra, the Chief Commercial Officer of Global Media and Streaming at BBC Studios, said in a statement. “We’re proud to launch this channel with the support of so many of the leading [free, ad-supported streaming] platform partners as we continue to expand the footprint of BBC News and bring the BBC’s journalism to wider audiences in the region.”

The BBC News streaming channel will offer the same schedule as the BBC News channel found on cable and satellite. Pay TV providers like Comcast, Dish Network, Philo and Charter’s Spectrum TV are expected to continue offering BBC News through the duration of their carriage agreements with AMC, which also include distribution of the flagship AMC channel, IFC, BBC America, Sundance and We TV.

“The BBC is one of the largest, most trusted and comprehensive news-gathering organizations in the world,” Kim Kelleher, the Chief Commercial Officer at AMC Networks, said in a statement. “The arrival of BBC News as a live, 24-hour channel on these free platforms is a landmark moment for global news, our partner platforms and the entire FAST distribution ecosystem.”

The decision to bring BBC News to free, ad-supported streaming services comes at a time when the BBC faces internal pressure to generate higher revenues from its BBC Studios commercial arm in order to offset a looming loss of income from a public television tax imposed on citizens in the United Kingdom.

The tax, called a TV license, brought in £3.74 billion (around $4.79 billion) of the BBC’s £5.7 billion (around $7.29 billion) in overall revenue during the 2022-2023 fiscal period, according to financial data released by the broadcaster. Revenue attributed to the TV license was around £60 million (about U.S. $76.8 million) lower compared to one year prior. Updated revenue figures for the 2023-2024 fiscal year are expected to be released this summer.

BBC Studios was established to bring in commercial revenue from the licensing of the BBC’s brand and original content outside the United Kingdom. The division generated £2.1 billion (around $2.7 billion) in commercial revenue in 2022-2023, up from £1.7 billion ($2.2 billion) earned one year prior.

Executives at the BBC said last June that its commercial arm through BBC Studios and other initiatives will help offset lower anticipated TV tax revenue over the next few years. To achieve that, the broadcaster has spent billions increasing its original content development and re-working its news brand — to include a full relaunch of the BBC News website in the United States last year — in an effort to attract a global audience.

In addition to its content and brand licensing business, the BBC has ambitious plans to target cord-cutters in North America with its own streaming product called Britbox. Earlier this month, BBC Studios said it would pay £225 million (around $321 million) to buy out rival broadcaster ITV’s stake in Britbox International, which offers British content over a dedicated streaming service in the United States and Canada.

“This is an important acquisition for us,” Tom Fussell, the CEO of BBC Studios, said in a statement. “We are taking full ownership of a successful, growing service we know well, and that fits with our stated ambition to double the size of our business. Britbox International has British content at its heart, and it generates and satisfies demand for British shows outside the UK. We will continue to make significant investments in the future to deliver long term value to the BBC.”

The launch of the BBC News channel on free, ad-supported streaming platforms is the next step in that long-term strategy, which also involves distributing other BBC-branded channels to those services.

In addition to BBC News, Pluto TV and other platforms will launch a new BBC Earth channel as well as revamped versions of BBC Food and BBC Home and Gardens.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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