While it will take time before BritBox’s success can judged, Sakaan’s leadership is already attracting praise. Tony Hall, the BBC’s outgoing director general, says: “A lot of people thought, due to historic rivalries, that BBC and ITV would struggle to work well together. But she made the BritBox experience a great one – not just for the consumer, but for everyone involved.”
Sakaan’s idea for the service grew from the ashes of a project in 2007 to create a joint streaming service between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Codenamed Kangaroo, the service was torpedoed by Britain’s competition authorities on the grounds it would be too powerful. It was a misstep that opened the door to Netflix’s domination.
When Sakaan approached the BBC’s commercial arm BBC Studios to rekindle the idea in 2016, they agreed to form a 50:50 joint venture in the US. BritBox had attracted one million subscribers across the US and Canada within three years – a success thatprompted ITV to plug in the majority of funding for a UK sister service.
Claire Enders, of Enders Analysis, believes the way Sakaan set up BritBox was excellent because she did not over promise and under deliver. “She has a poised and appropriate approach to what she is doing,” Enders says. “She is the one woman who I see as the future director general of the BBC right now after Tim Davie.”
Sakaan was born in Aleppo, Syria. Her father was a Syrian Muslim civil engineer who met her mother, an Irish Catholic nurse, while they were studying in London in the Sixties. Her two older sisters were born in the UK before the family returned to the Middle Eastern country.
Sakaan says the “burgeoning, amazing, fun culture” the family experienced in Aleppo is a stark contrast to the war-ravaged city of today. In the Eighties, Sakaan and her immediate family left Syria and moved to Memphis, Tennessee in the US. Her aunties and cousins remained and were forced to flee to Sweden, Germany and Egypt when war broke out (although some have since returned).
Sakaan eventually set down roots in London when her father set up a builders’ merchant. After studying business at Bath University, her first jobs were in marketing with consumer goods giants Reckitt Benckiser, Diageo and General Mills.
Her foray into media came later when she returned to the UK following a stint in Australia. She joined the BBC as a marketing manager for digital platforms in 2005, rising through the ranks to take senior roles in marketing with BBC One and ITV. Two years ago, she was made ITV’s group managing director for streaming video on-demand.