ITV mapped out its digital future last week with the announcement that its advertising supported BVOD service ITV Hub, and the premium ad-free version ITV Hub+, will be replaced this year by ITVX – a massively expanded streaming service that will house the free ad-funded and ad-free subscription versions of ITV streaming under the same roof.
Importantly, the company announced a digital-first windowing strategy that will see much of its new content appearing first on ITVX before making its way to ITV broadcast channels not days later, or weeks later, but months later (6-9 months later for a wealth of dramas, for example). All the drama and comedy commissions, and most reality series, will also be dropped onto ITVX as a full series or boxset as soon as the first episode has aired on linear (broadcast) TV.
Viewers are not being forced into a subscription tier to see this content early – the shows are going into the free ad-supported version of ITVX, leaving the core value proposition for the subscription tier as the absence of advertising and a wider content offer that will include shows currently found in BritBox (the subscription streaming joint venture with the BBC) and partner SVODs yet to be announced.
ITV plans to scale the content offer on ITV Hub ahead of the transition to ITVX – currently the free BVOD service has 4,000 hours of content and ITVX will have 15,000 hours at launch. Another key innovation within the new service will be the presence of specially curated and themed FAST (free ad-supported TV) channels, including ‘Hell’s Kitchen US’, ‘The Chase’ (harnessing the popular quiz show) and ‘90s Favourites’.
The FAST channels will evolve and “pop-up” to align with viewer preferences and popularity, with those curation decisions drawing upon the data ITV has available via its digital services. ITV is promising a new themed channel every week of the year! ITVX contains the classic ITV linear channels, of course.
FAST channels featuring library content are becoming part of the staple diet on aggregated content offers on Smart TV platforms. Indeed, ITV Studios just announced a deal with Samsung TV Plus to distribute FAST channels in the UK and other European markets like Italy and Germany, as well.
With its larger catalogue, ITVX is going to be home to a variety of past classics (like ‘Brideshead Revisited’) to current favourites like ‘Love Island’. A wide selection of popular U.S. series is also promised, with WarnerMedia International Television Distribution announced as the first content partner for this endeavour, with more to come. This deal will include UK premieres (on ITVX) for ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ and ‘All American’, among other shows.
ITV says blockbuster films will also be part of the service. “ITVX intends to stream 500 films for free in its first year alone, with a constantly refreshed selection of titles and 150 films on the service at any one time,” the company said last week. Major live events like sport (including the FIFA World Cup) and tentpole linear shows like ‘I’m A Celebrity’ or the ‘Love Island Final’, will be simulcast on broadcast TV and ITVX.
ITV has emphasised the importance of this service housing both an ad-supported free option and a subscription funded offer under the same roof. “It is the UK’s first integrated AVOD/SVOD platform and will be the first streaming service in the UK to offer viewers the flexibility to access free content with ads and ad-free paid subscription, all in one place,” the company declares. The subscription tier pricing will be revealed later this year.
Carolyn McCall, ITV’s Chief Executive, has made it clear that ITVX should be viewed as part of the broadcaster’s digital acceleration. “We are supercharging our streaming business, fundamentally shifting our focus to think digital-first, as well as optimising our broadcast channels, by continuing to attract unrivalled mass audiences.
“In doing so we are responding to changing viewing habits, but also the evolving needs from our advertisers. This will enable ITV to continue to be both commercial viewers and advertisers’ first choice.”
Kevin Lygo, ITV’s Managing Director of Media and Entertainment, confirms: “Our broadcast channels are very important to what we do, and we are still focused on delivering what ITV does better than anyone in commercial TV: creating programmes that bring audiences together, in-the-moment, in their millions, for that shared viewing, scheduled TV experience.
“However, we know we have to deliver our programmes to as many people as possible in all the ways they want to watch them and going forward viewers will now see a wide array of shows premiering first on ITVX, which is the cornerstone of ITV’s digital acceleration.”
This is BVOD for the 2020s – the answer you might expect from one of the world’s most important content and broadcast groups – a large, multi-genre offering combining vast boxsets, standard linear channels, themed FAST channels and live events like sport, all available as a free or paid version, and making full use of the enormous intellectual property ITV owns.
So, if this is the ‘answer’, what is the question? The question is how broadcasters grow their digital share-of-time and therefore guarantee their total-share-of-time as more people stream more of the time, especially when faced with the arrival of global studio direct-to-consumer services like Paramount, Disney+ and Peacock on top of the global SVODs like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
The change in ITV windowing is the concrete evidence that ITV is thinking digital-first. If you put your big new shows into your BVOD service up to nine months ahead of their broadcast TV debut, you are encouraging people to migrate to digital. It is worth stressing: these shows are going early into the free window as well as the pay one, so this is not about encouraging a subset of the free-to-view broadcast audience into paid streaming instead – it will encourage free-to-view broadcast viewers into free-to-view streaming (even if some switch to paid).
When you do that, as a leading commercial broadcaster with large ad revenues, you must be sure you can fully monetise large-scale audiences in streaming. ITV has become an advanced advertising leader over the last few years and Planet V is one of the hero ‘technologies’ behind that journey, giving the company full control, in a broadcast-friendly way, of programmatic sales as well as direct-sold advertising across its streamed content.
More on related subjects
Interested in the future of free-to-view television, the evolution of content strategies (including windowing) and (subscription and ad-supported) streaming strategies? Then check out Connected TV World Summit in May, which also has three sessions dedicated to advanced TV advertising. Full details here.