One of the most common questions we’re hearing lately is whether a British TV lover should get BritBox or Acorn TV. Now, before we get into the differences, I want to be very clear about one thing. I recommend them both. If your budget allows and you have time to watch programs from both, then definitely sign up for both. There’s little to no overlap in terms of what they offer, and they both have somewhere around 250 titles at any given time.
If subscribing to both Acorn TV and BritBox is out of your budget, the second best option would be to sign up for one, keep it for a few months, then switch for a few months. In my experience, only about 10% of the programming changes each month on either service, so you’re not going to miss much going back and forth like that. Just keep a close eye on the “Leaving Soon” programs and you should be fine. The only real hassle is just the fact that you have to remember to go in and cancel/re-sign up somewhat frequently. You’d also miss out on the annual subscription benefit for paying 12 months in advance on Acorn TV.
But if I MUST Choose?
A lot of people just want to know: Which is better, Acorn TV or BritBox? Unfortunately, there’s no single answer that will be right for everyone. To help you figure out which is best for YOU, let’s take an in-depth look at both.
As most people know, Acorn TV has been around quite a bit longer than BritBox. They’ve had years to work out the bugs and improve customer experience – and believe me, there were issues in the beginning. It didn’t always stream well, billing between the catalog site and the TV site was a bit wonky, and I sent quite a few emails to customer service that never received a reply. Those days are over, though, and Acorn TV is a pretty solid product now.
The Roku app is probably the most common means of accessing Acorn TV and it offers a very functional, no-frills experience. The menus don’t look fancy, but they’re lightning fast and it all just works. I love that. There are few things more irritating than a company with a pretty interface and no functionality – or worse, a company that just keeps redesigning things to keep their designers busy, all the while making things more difficult for those of us who have to figure out where they’ve moved things.
If you have a Prime Membership and Fire TV/Fire Stick from Amazon, you can buy your Acorn TV subscription directly from Amazon instead, and use their app to stream shows. This can be very convenient if you wish to stop and start, as Amazon makes it quite easy to cancel channels. You can sign up here for the free trial (billed at $4.99/month afterwards).
In terms of programming, Acorn TV currently has slightly more than BritBox, at 258 offerings (as I’m writing this – it changes often). Not all of Acorn TV’s programming is British, and you’ll generally see a handful of shows from Canada, Australia, Ireland, Scandinavia, etc. Not all are in English.
Still, the majority of Acorn TV’s programming is British. They offer a number of the really big, popular recent shows like Doc Martin, the various Agatha Christie programs (RLJ Entertainment, owner of Acorn TV, also owns much of the corporation that owns the Christie rights), Midsomer Murders, and Vera. If you enjoy those and want to stay current as the new seasons come out, Acorn TV is the service to have.
One thing I’ve noticed with Acorn is that it does seem to have slightly more cross-over with Netflix – though in many cases, Acorn gets the content faster and holds exclusivity on new seasons for quite a while. At the time of writing (July 2017), Netflix also offers Doc Martin (S1-6), Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Rake, The Code, Miss Fisher’s, Foyle’s War, The Delivery Man, Deep Water, Hinterland, Detectorists, Jack Taylor, Republic of Doyle, Black Books, Jamaica Inn, and quite a few others I’ve seen on Acorn TV. If your household already subscribes to Netflix, you should take a careful look to see what you want on Acorn that isn’t on Netflix.
In early 2017, BritBox came along to give us more wonderful British programming and complicate the lives of those who now have to make a choice between two great services. I’ve been using BritBox since it became available – first through my browser, and later on Roku.
As a brand new service, BritBox is not without its problems.The interface is pretty, but still extremely awkward and clunky. They’ve made some improvements, but it can still be hard for some people to find all the programming that’s offered. My grandmother is constantly telling me there isn’t much on BritBox, then I’ll recommend a show and she’ll be surprised to learn it’s on there.
They also lack a good “auto-play next episode” feature, and it’s not always easy to navigate back and see where you were on a show you’re watching. Sometimes I have to look at several episodes before I remember which one I need.
I’ve seen many people talk about technical issues with BritBox, but I have set it up for several people now and I haven’t had a single problem. My recommendation is to go to the BritBox website and sign up there rather than trying to set up the subscription through your viewing device of choice (Apple TV or Roku). Once you do that, you can install the channel on your device and sign in.
BritBox does have a webpage to view all their programming from A-Z, but it’s dreadfully annoying because they show you a handful of shows and you have to scroll down and hit “Show More” before they give you another 9 shows. Because they have around 230 programs, it takes a while to see everything. One thing I DO like about that page, though, is that it gives you a brief description of the show, the date, and how many seasons they have. That’s particularly useful when you’re trying to quickly determine whether they have the classic version of a show, or the reboot (as with something like Father Brown or Poldark).
While Acorn excels at offering recent, well-known shows, BritBox has an enormous back catalog of classic content like Inspector Morse, Cadfael, Dalziel and Pascoe, Classic Doctor Who, Fawlty Towers, Gavin and Stacey, Jonathan Creek, Keeping Up Appearances, Lark Rise to Candleford, Porridge, Rosemary and Thyme, Red Dwarf, Prime Suspect, Inspector Lynley, Upstairs Downstairs (original and re-boot), Wycliffe, and A Touch of Frost. They also have great lifestyle content, if you enjoy things like Countryfile or Fantasy Homes by the Sea.
If you follow one of the major British soaps (Emmerdale, EastEnders, or Coronation Street), you’ll be very pleased to know that BritBox offers next-day viewing for these, along with a few other shows. You can view their “Now” page to find out more about the programming you can get quickly after its original air date.
I’ve found far less overlap between BritBox and other services, but as with anything, that could change. To view their current list of all shows, visit the link below and scroll to the bottom and keep hitting “Show More” until it stops giving you new titles.
So What Should I Choose?
Like we said in the beginning, it really depends on your situation, and no matter what we recommend, it’s very possible your decision will boil down to one or two shows that one service has and the other doesn’t. If you’re into Emmerdale or EastEnders, for example, BritBox is definitely the service for you. Still, here are some general guidelines to help you decide.
Note: All stated program availability is based on what was current in July 2017. Please check the programming links I’ve provided above to see what’s currently on offer if you’re reading this much later.
You Should Get Acorn TV If…
- If you’re newer to British TV and you want a great introduction to many of the most popular, current shows that are loved stateside
- If you’re wary of a few technical glitches here and there, stick with Acorn TV for now – I haven’t had technical issues with BritBox, but it has frustrated many
- If you’re a die-hard Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, or Vera fan (especially if you don’t have Netflix, which also carries Midsomer Murders and Doc Martin)
- If the slightly lower price matters, definitely go for Acorn TV – plenty of great content here at a slightly lower price
- If you own a Fire TV or Fire Stick – BritBox is not yet available on those at the time of writing
- If you enjoy the occasional Canadian or Australia show in the mix, go with Acorn TV
You Should Get BritBox If…
- If you’ve had Acorn TV for years and you’ve watched much of the programming they offer
- If you’ve watched a lot of British television on Netflix/Amazon/PBS/Acorn and you want to see fresh shows that often can’t even be found on Region 1 DVDs (Some shows are only released on Region 2 DVDs, meaning you have to have a region-free DVD player to play them. Learn more about that by clicking here.)
- If you appreciate older British shows from the 70s, 80s, and 90s – BritBox has a great selection of classics like Keeping Up Appearances, Fawlty Towers, and Are You Being Served?
- If you love British soaps – BritBox has next-day availability for Emmerdale, Coronation Street, and EastEnders (along with a few other shows with next-day availability)
- If you enjoy a lot of lifestyle content like Countryfile, Coast, Fantasy Homes by the Sea, Flog It, and The Hairy Bikers
- If you’re not afraid of an awkward interface or the occasional technical glitch as they work the kinks out of their service
If All Else Fails…
If you still can’t make up your mind, remember that each service offers a free trial. In fact, if you sign up for Acorn once through their site and later through Amazon, you could technically get two free trials (assuming you have a Prime membership at Amazon, which is required to get Acorn there).
Please feel free to add your advice and opinions in the comments. Have we overlooked any major decision-making factors? Which service have you enjoyed more?