Salto, the joint streaming service launched by French broadcasters TF1, France Télévisions, and M6 just over two years ago, is facing a very uncertain future. Earlier this year, France Télévisions was set to pull out, in light of TF1 and M6’s planned merger, giving the combined company full control of Salto. Now however, with the merger having fallen through, TF1 and M6 have announced their intension to pull out of the project. This would leave France Télévisions as the only remaining shareholder unless a third party buyer steps in.
The news has led some to speculate that Salto could close down altogether.
Salto, when it was first announced, was pitched as a combined fightback against the streaming giants. The founding broadcasters said Salto would combine their content, focussing on French TV shows and films to set it apart from international competitors. And a unique human-guided recommendation system was designed to more effectively present subscribers with content they’re likely to be interested in.
But it never seemed to truly get off the ground. Official subscriber figures have been sparse, but a France Télévisions executive said back in January that Salto had over 700,000 subscribers. This placed it significantly behind Netflix, which has over 10 million subscriptions in France.
Salto’s experience is not unique. Indeed several other European broadcaster joint ventures have gone down a similar path.
BritBox, a UK collaboration between ITV and the BBC, has struggled to pick up subscribers (it has a similar number to Salto), and ITV bought out the BBC’s stake earlier this year. Meanwhile in Germany, ProSieben bought out WarnerBros Discovery’s share of their joint venture Joyn.
All of these joint projects seem to have hit a similar series of problems.
Perhaps the most obvious is that combined services tend to be deprioritised by their owners, who are focused more on their individual streaming efforts. This means a lot of the content available on these services is also available on the broadcasters’ own free, ad-supported apps. And original content tends to be sparse, since broadcasters want to focus investment on their own properties.
Compare the original content slate for BritBox, probably the most notable of which was the reboot of political puppet show Spitting Image, with the range of star-studded shows commissioned for the launch of ITVX, ITV’s revamped streaming service.
These services, which are often paid and ad-free, also tend to sit a little awkwardly in broadcasters’ financial plans. They risk partially cannibalising ad revenues, without necessarily adding substantial subscription revenues in return (since they’re split between all the owners).
And services which focus on their specific region also have a much more limited market to grow into than the international services they’re competing with. This makes it much harder to justify the sort of investment needed to really compete, in terms of content investment.