The major TV channels in the U.K. frequently produce high-quality dramas, comedies, and thrillers, of which only a small minority ever make it to American shores. This is a crying shame. After all, we all know British television shows are vastly superior to anything the American TV networks can produce!
Joking aside, there’s a mountain of new content waiting for you. And thanks to two relatively new services — BritBox and Acorn TV — you can now get your hands on (almost) all of it. Subscribing to both services would be expensive, so you need to know which is right for you.
In this article, we take a look at both services in detail. Which is the easiest to use? Which has the best selection of content? And, perhaps most importantly, which has the most content?
BritBox is a joint venture between the two largest networks in the U.K.: the BBC and ITV. It went live in March 2017, just three months after the two networks announced the project.
As Soumya Sriraman, BritBox president, told Fortune:
“BBC and ITV are known for a vast array of diverse and award-winning programming that fans in the U.S. love and want to watch. BritBox offers a single point of access to an extensive collection of outstanding British programming to discover and enjoy.”
Acorn TV has been around for longer: it went live in 2013. RLJ Entertainment Inc. owns and operates the service. Interestingly, one of RLJ’s subsidiaries (Acorn Media Group) has been responsible for distributing U.K. content in the United States since the mid-1990s. It means the developers behind Acorn TV have a solid understanding of what American audiences enjoy watching.
What Content Is Available?
What can you expect to find on each service?
Interestingly, Acorn TV doesn’t only specialize in U.K. shows. It also carries programming from Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The company has deals in place with some of the largest producers in those countries, including ITV, Channel 4, BBC Worldwide, All3Media, DRG, ZDF, and Content Media Corp.
The content offered can be broadly divided into six areas: mysteries, dramas, comedies, documentaries, feature films, and foreign language shows.
Some of the most famous shows from recent years are available, including Doc Martin, Black Books, QI, and Hinterland. If you’re a Martin Clunes fan, you’re sure to appreciate the service. He seems to pop up much more frequently than any other actor.
Away from well-known network shows, Acorn TV also makes some original content. Its most successful original show was an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot in summer 2014. The show remains the only production by a niche streaming service to be nominated for an Emmy.
Sadly, the service feels a little “padded.” Yes, you will find lots of good stuff, but we can’t imagine too many people tune into shows like The Yorkshire Vet or The World’s Most Famous Train.
Lastly, Acorn TV also holds the rights to the U.S. premieres of a number of shows, including Detectorists, Vera, Inspector George Gently, and Midsomer Murders. If you want to be at the front of the queue for new episodes of these shows, Acorn TV is the answer.
In one sense, BritBox has a narrower focus: it only carries content from BBC and ITV. On the other hand, those two networks are responsible for the majority of quality programming in the UK, so you’re going to get the best of the best rather than a mix of quality output and unwatchable trash.
There are renowned soaps like EastEnders, crime thrillers like Silent Witness and Waking the Dead, long-running family series such as Casualty, and a whole range of famous comedies like The Office and The Vicar of Dibley.
BritBox also excels in its selection of classic British comedies. It carries shows like Porridge, Are You Being Served?, and Fawlty Towers, as well as more recent hits like Absolutely Fabulous and Keeping Up Appearances.
The service does not provide any content from BBC America.
How Much Content Is Available?
Quality and quantity are arguably the two most important metrics when you’re thinking about a service. We’ve covered quality, so what about quantity? After all, you don’t want to run out of things to watch a few months after signing up.
At the time of writing, Acorn TV carries 255 different shows and movies. Of those 255, 34 are movies and nine are in a foreign language, meaning you’ve got around 200 TV series to get sucked into.
Luckily, older shows are represented in full. For example, the seven series of Men Behaving Badly are available, as are the nine series of Foyle’s War, and all 19 series of Midsomer Murders.
BritBox has a similar number shows. The bulk of them fall under either the Drama or Comedy categories.
In short, both services will keep you fulfilled for a long time. It’s hard to accurately determine the number of hours of programming available, but they both run into several thousand.
Note: The number of shows on both services fluctuates slightly from month-to-month as new shows are added and old ones are removed.
The User Interfaces
The last one of the three big deal breakers when choosing your service is the user interface. There is no point in having thousands of hours of shows if you can’t quickly find what you want to watch when you want to watch it.
Of these two services, BritBox has the best UI. Acorn TV takes a “no frills” approach. You’ll see all the shows available in a grid. Clicking on a show will give you a brief snippet of information about the series and a link to a trailer (where appropriate). You will find all the seasons and individual episodes further down the page. They use an identical grid to the homepage. There is no further subdivision of the content.
BritBox feels more refined. Although it looks nothing like Netflix, it’s clearly taken pointers from the streaming behemoth. When browsing a particular category, you’ll find shows broken down into subcategories.
For example, while exploring Comedy, you will find Featured Shows at the top, followed by an Only on BritBox section, then further comedic sub-categories such as Iconic Sitcoms, Classic Satire, and Honored by Bafta. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a scrollable list of all the content in the category.
Support for Devices
Acorn TV is available in your browser, and there are standalone apps for both iOS and Android. It also works on three set-top boxes: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV. It’s also Chromecast compatible.
BritBox is also available in your browser, on iOS and Android, and on Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV.
What About the Price?
While reading this article, you might have started to realize there is very little between the two services. Neither is overly weak in any one area, and both boast several strong points.
As such, your decision may solely boil down to price. And in this arena, we have a clear winner.
BritBox will set you back $6.99 per month, while Acorn TV only costs $4.99 per month. Additionally, Acorn TV offers an annual subscription for $49.99 per year, saving you 17 percent over 12 months. BritBox offers no annual plan.
Unfortunately for our non-American readers, both Acorn TV and BritBox are only available in the United States.
On the plus side, neither block traffic originating from VPNs, so if you have a subscription to a VPN provider, you will be able to circumnavigate the geo-blocking. A smart DNS provider will also work.
Which Service Should You Use?
In my opinion, BritBox is slightly better. Yes, there are fewer shows and it costs slightly more, but the quality of the shows is higher and the website is much more enjoyable to use.
However, your personal TV preferences will determine much of your decision. If the shows you want to watch are only available on one of the two platforms, clearly it makes sense to subscribe to that service. If you’re not sure, sign up for a free trial. Both services will give you seven days with no obligation to continue beyond that.
Which service do you think is the best? Is it BritBox? Or Acorn TV? What makes your choice the better of the two services? As always, you can tell us your opinions in the comments below!
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