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BritBox vs. Acorn TV – Which is Better?
For several years, Acorn TV was the only major player in the British TV game. Sure, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video had some options, but nothing like Acorn's 200+ titles at any given time. In early 2017, everything changed. BritBox came on the US streaming scene in March of 2017, then expanded to Canada in early 2018 (though both BritBox and Acorn TV have a slightly restricted offering for Canadians). That leaves a lot of people wondering: who wins the BritBox vs. Acorn TV battle? In this post, we'll focus strictly on content (since the interface and user experience can vary by device and platform).
Before we get into the differences and subtleties of each service's content, let's be clear about one thing. If your budget and free time for TV viewing allow it, definitely get both. The amount of overlap is EXTREMELY small (<5% last time we counted), and both services offer 200+ programs at any given time. That said, there are some differences…
BritBox vs. Acorn TV – Who Has More British TV Shows?
When it comes to number of titles, BritBox is the clear winner of the two. That wasn't the case until recently, but as of late April 2018, BritBox has 301 titles to Acorn TV's 258 titles. Of course, that doesn't matter much if you subscribe to BritBox and find most of the shows you wanted to watch were actually on Acorn TV. It's also worth noting that Acorn has a significant number of non-English language and non-British programs, while BritBox's content is purely British.
Our best recommendation would be to take advantage of the 7-day free trial for each so you can get a better feel for which fits you best. Please note, each person can only get the free trial once, and they could discontinue that promotion at any time.
BritBox vs. Acorn TV – What Type of Programs Do They Offer?
If you don't have time to give each service a try and you just want a general idea of what they're like, this next section is for you. Although both services are great, and both have programs in every category, each one does seem to have its specialties.
Keep in mind – while we attempt to update these types of posts every couple months, there's always a chance something could change and a show might not be available when you read this post. Most shows stick around for months or longer, though, so it's likely whatever you read here will be mostly accurate (and you can click on the show names to verify if they're still with the service).
BritBox was created as a partnership between British TV giants ITV and the BBC. When BritBox first came out, it seemed to be weighted a lot more heavily towards classic content and British soaps. That's changed a bit, though, and they've added quite a few newer programs. They also have quite a bit of lifestyle and documentary content, which gives you a more realistic sampling of the overall British TV landscape.
In general, BritBox excels at classic British television, soaps, and lifestyle programming. They're still a bit weak in terms of more modern programming, but the fact that they've premiered the most recent seasons of Vera and Shetland is a really promising sign.
The lists below are just a small sample of the 300 or so programs currently on BritBox, but we feel it represents the best of what they have on offer.
New & Popular British TV Shows on BritBox
- Vera – Acorn TV used to get the new seasons first, but Series 8 premiered earlier this year on BritBox
- Upstart Crow – A fictionalized sitcom about a young-ish Shakespeare
- Trauma – This 2018 thriller shows how two fathers' lives collide when one's son dies at the hands of the other
- Young Hyacinth – This 2016 special is a prequel to Keeping Up Appearances
- Midsomer Murders – As of Spring 2018, BritBox now carries all 19 seasons of this British mystery classic (no word yet on who gets Series 20 first)
- The Moorside – This 2017 true-crime drama about the disappearance and reappearance of a child drew huge numbers in the UK.
- The Job Lot – BritBox offers 3 seasons of this West Midlands-based comedy about employees at a job centre
- Shetland – Series 4 of this engrossing Scottish mystery premiered this spring on BritBox, with new episodes being released weekly
- Scott & Bailey – This Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley) procedural went on for 5 seasons, all of which are on BritBox
- Rev – An underdog vicar tries to keep things together at a run-down urban church.
- New Blood – This new crime drama features two young detectives working together to fight powerful corporate and wealthy individual criminals.
- Not Safe for Work – This raunchy workplace comedy shows civil service inefficiency at its finest.
- Maigret – BritBox carries both the early 1990s Michael Gambon version and the 2016 Rowan Atkinson interpretation
- Life on Mars – This unique “is it a time travel show or not” police drama stars John Simm as a Manchester cop who suffers serious injuries and wakes up to find himself as a cop in 1970s Manchester.
- Cold Feet – While this popular dramedy originally premiered in the late 90s, they recently returned for a reboot (with a much older cast and completely different set of issues).
Classic British TV Shows on BritBox
- Vicar of Dibley – This early 90s comedy features Dawn French as a female vicar in a small village not too far from London
- Keeping Up Appearances – Patricia Routledge stars as the snooty but lovable Hyacinth Bucket (that's BOUQUET).
- Are You Being Served? – We're still not sure how Grace Brothers department store manages to stay open, but we certainly enjoy watching them do it.
- Red Dwarf – Red Dwarf is a sci-fi sitcom that showcases the adventures of the last human and his friends, drifting aboard an old mining spaceship.
- Inspector Lynley Mysteries – Oxford-educated DI Thomas Lynley works alongside his working class assistant Sergeant Barbara Havers.
- Rosemary & Thyme – Two women partner as gardeners but wind up solving murders.
- Prime Suspect – Helen Mirren stars as DCI Jane Tennison, a determined female cop in an overwhelming male world.
- Only Fools & Horses – Two rough brothers from London wheel and deal, always looking for that big score.
- Miss Marple – BritBox carries 3 seasons from the classic 1980s Marple series.
- Agatha Christie's Poirot – BritBox carries the first 6 seasons of the classic David Suchet Poirot.
- Inspector Morse – John Thaw stars as the classic Oxford detective.
- Last of the Summer Wine – While BritBox only has a small handful of episodes out of the 37 or so series they produced, it's still worth mentioning because those old Yorkshiremen are just so funny.
- Jonathan Creek – An inventor of tricks for a popular magician also helps solve crimes that seem impossible.
- Hetty Wainthropp Investigates – Patricia Routledge stars as a plucky old pensioner who solves crimes alongside her patient husband and the at-risk teenager they adopted.
- Fawlty Towers – John Cleese and Prunella Scales star in this wonderful but way too short-lived comedy about a husband and wife who run a small hotel.
- Father Ted – This classic comedy features three strange priests living together in a small Irish village.
- Classic Doctor Who – The time traveling time lord likely needs no special introduction.
- Dalziel & Pascoe – Two cops – one old school, one new – don't always get along, but they work well together.
- Cracker – Cracker is a rough but intelligent criminal psychologist who uses his insights to help solve difficult crimes.
- Cadfael – Derek Jacobi plays Cadfael, a crime-solving 12th century monk.
- Boon – Ex-firemen Ken Boon is rendered unfit for duty after injuries sustained while saving a child's life. Forced into early retirement and much in need of an income, he advertises his availability for “anything legal” and winds up working as a private investigator.
- Blackadder – Rowan Atkinson stars in this classic comedy about a fictional British anti-hero.
- Ballykissangel – An urban priest is transferred to a rural Irish village and must learn to integrate with the community.
- As Time Goes By – Two lovers are reunited in their senior years after a misunderstanding drove them apart decades earlier.
- A Touch of Frost – David Jason stars as DI Jack Frost in this police drama about a disorganized but highly effective detective.
- Brideshead Revisited – Two young men meet at Oxford and remain in one another's lives for years afterwards.
- Absolutely Fabulous – This much-loved comedy features the adventures of two middle-aged women who live an unabashedly narcissistic lifestyle.
British Soaps on BritBox
- EastEnders – This slightly newer (but still nearly 30-year-old) soap is set in the fictional London borough of Walford around a Victorian square that includes a pub (The Queen Vic), a market, a launderette, and a cafe.
- Coronation Street – This long-running British soap is set in the fictional area of Wetherfield, where residents walk cobbled streets among terrace houses and the local watering hole, the Rovers Return pub.
- Emmerdale – Emmerdale has been around a little longer than Corrie, but it's often regarded as the younger, sexier cousin of the other two big soaps.
- Casualty – This is the world's longest-running medical drama, and it centers around the lives of the emergency room staff and patients at Holby City Hospital.
- Holby City – Holby City is a spin-off of Casualty, and it occurs in the same hospital with some cross-over between the two.
Lifestyle, Travel, and Documentary Series on BritBox
- Antiques Roadshow – Members of the general public bring in items to have their values estimated by experts.
- Escape to the Country – This rural British house-hunting show can be a bit jarring for Americans familiar with HGTV's House Hunters, as the shoppers don't always end up choosing any of the houses (House Hunters is staged, and the people have generally chosen a home well before filming).
- Home Away From Home – Brits swap houses to see how others live.
- Tales from the Coast with Robson Green – Grantchester star Robson Green travels around the UK's coastline (including a great Scottish islands episode).
- Flog It – People attempt to sell their antiques to get a bit of cash.
- Nigellissima – Nigella does Italian cuisine.
- Coast – This long-running program features various parts of the coast in and around the British Isles.
Acorn TV is owned by RLJ Entertainment, and reports from February 2018 indicate that AMC Networks may be in the process of acquiring the company. Either way, RLJ has been on the British TV scene for many years – first as a catalog retailer and then as a streaming TV provider. RLJ was founded by Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET.
In general, Acorn TV excels at modern mysteries and dramas – though like BritBox, they have a little bit of everything. Acorn also has quite a bit of Canadian and Australian content, along with the occasional show from Scandinavia or mainland Europe. At the time of writing, Acorn had 258 titles. The list below is just a small sample to give you an idea of what Acorn TV offers.
New & Popular British TV Shows on Acorn TV
- Vera – Acorn has series 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 of this popular Northumberland mystery. BritBox took the rights to premiere Series 8 in the US.
- Midsomer Murders – Acorn TV also continues to carry all 19 seasons of this popular British mystery series.
- Loch Ness – Along the banks of Loch Ness, murder shakes a small community.
- No Offence – This gritty Manchester-based police dramedy doesn't shy away from that which is rude, gory, or generally distasteful.
- Detectorists – This comedy starts Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones as two dedicated members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club.
- Doc Martin – After developing a fear of blood, the grumpy Doc Martin moves to a remote Cornwall fishing village to become a GP.
- Miss Marple – Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie portray Agatha Christie's famed spinster detective.
- Poirot – David Suchet stars as the famous detective.
- Agatha Raisin – After successfully quitting her PR career to move to The Cotswolds, Agatha Raisin finds herself in the center of quite a few murders.
- Foyle's War – As WWII rages on, Christopher Foyle does his bit solving crimes on the homefront.
- Murdoch Mysteries (Canada) – This 1890s murder mystery series gives us William Murdoch, a detective who has to piece together cases with the latest forensic techniques like fingerprinting.
- Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (Australia) – A female detective works amidst the nightlife and jazz clubs of 1920s Melbourne.
- Inspector George Gently – Inspector George Gently helps bring down members of the criminal underworld.
- Girlfriends – Three older women guide each other through a series of scandalous events.
- Ackley Bridge – Two schools merge and become one diverse, occasionally troubled school.
- Whites – Alan Davies stars as a temperamental chef at a small upscale restaurant.
- Heart Guy (Australia) – A heart surgeon turns small-town doctor.
- Delicious – In Cornwall, two women who've shared the same man must learn to work together.
- 800 Words – A recently-widowed man quits his job as an 800-word columnist and embarks on a new life.
- The Brokenwood Mysteries (New Zealand) – DS Mike Shepard is sent to the small town of Brokenwood on assignment.
- Striking Out (Ireland) – When a woman discovers her colleague/fiancé is cheating on her, she sets off on her own to establish a new practice.
- Republic of Doyle (Canada) – Jake Doyle and his father are Newfoundland's most notorious PIs.
- A Place to Call Home (Austalia) – A mysterious woman pursues a new life in post-WWII Australia.
- Count Arthur Strong – An unemployed actor attempts to re-tell his life story.
Classic British TV Shows on Acorn TV
- Hamish MacBeth – Based on the Hamish MacBeth novels by M.C. Beaton, this light-hearted mystery series is set in the Scottish Highlands
- Doctor Finlay – After WWII, Doctor Finlay practices medicine at Arden House – meanthile, the NHS is about to come into being.
- No Job for a Lady – Penelope Keith becomes an MP and learns just how hard it can be for a woman.
- Black Books – This strange comedy centers around Bernard Black's bookstore.
- Rebus – DI John Rebus investigates sinister crimes in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland.
- Poldark (1970s version) – After returning home from the Revolutionary War, a Cornish man finds his life turned upside down.
- Brideshead Revisited – Two young men meet at Oxford and remain in one another's lives for years afterwards.
Lifestyle, Travel, and Documentary Series on Acorn TV
- The Magic of Houdini – Jonathan Creek's Alan Davies explores the history of the world's most famous illusionist.
- Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages – This delightful travel series features Penelope Keith traveling around some of the United Kingdom's loveliest villages.
- Four in a Bed – B&B owners take turns staying at one another's establishments and rating them.
- Time Team – With so much history in Britain, it's no surprise there's a show dedicated to experts unearthing it.
- The Hairy Bikers Pubs that Built Britain – The title is pretty self-explanatory, but the show itself is much more delightful than you might imagine.
- The Edwardian Country House – In an Edwardian country house in Scotland, strangers come together for three months to live as people did during Edwardian times – complete with the restrictive social structures.
BritBox vs. Acorn TV – The Great Compromise
If subscribing to both BritBox and Acorn TV 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 our experience, only about 10% of the programming changes each month on either service, so you're not going to miss much if you switch back and forth somewhat regularly – and both services have email newsletters to keep you aware of what's coming and going. The only real difficulty is just the fact that you have to remember to go in and cancel/re-sign up somewhat frequently (and you can always use something like Google Calendar to help you remember). We've created a guide on how to cancel your channels quickly and easily, though (without the need to call on the phone or talk to any humans). Check it out HERE.
BritBox vs. Acorn TV – So Which One Should I Get???
We'll do our best to make this simple.
You Should Get Acorn TV If…
- If you’re newer to British TV fandom and you want a solid introduction to the most popular, current shows that are loved stateside
- If you’re a die-hard Doc Martin or Agatha Christie fan (especially if you don’t have Netflix, which also carries Doc Martin but with greater delay)
- If you're highly price-sensitive, definitely choose Acorn TV – they have tons of content to keep you busy, but it's a little bit cheaper
- If you don't mind the occasional show from Canada, Australia, or Scandinavia, Acorn will give you a little extra variety
Sign up for Acorn TV here.
You Should Get BritBox If…
- If you’ve been an Acorn user since they opened and there's nothing you haven't already seen
- 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 love British classics, go with BritBox
- If you love British soaps – BritBox has next-day availability for Emmerdale, Coronation Street, and EastEnders (along with a few other non-soap shows)
- If you enjoy lifestyle content or home and garden “reality” shows, BritBox delivers more of them
Sign up for BritBox here.
Your Thoughts on the BritBox vs. Acorn TV debate?
Which one have you enjoyed more? Is there any factor we're overlooking? Let us know in the comments!
After founding I Heart British TV in 2016 as a resource for her granny, Stefanie has grown I Heart British TV into a resource that serves millions of British TV fans every year. When not writing posts or editing contributions to the site, you can probably find her working on the latest print edition of the British TV Streaming Guide.