Home Analysis ITV reveals more details about ITVX, including a major focus on live...

ITV reveals more details about ITVX, including a major focus on live and linear

The UK’s largest commercial broadcaster will transition its streaming audiences to ITVX this autumn and has been emphasising that this is first-and-foremost a free ad-supported proposition despite the presence of a subscription ad-free tier – which is described as a small add-on. ITV views live entertainment as a key differentiator to other streaming services and will also drive non-live linear streaming using FAST channels. All ad inventory will be sold via Planet V and targeting options are being expanded. The new UX puts more emphasis on personalisation of TV. ITVX is built on a new technology architecture.

The Sex Lives of College Girls, appearing on ITVX
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ITV outlined the implications of ITVX to advertisers last week as it emphasised that the new streaming service is all about free-to-view ad-supported television, with the ad-free subscription tier only a modest part of the ITV future and (as we previously reported) the new streaming-first windowing applying to the ad-supported tier as well as the paid-tier. The company promised advertisers that the broadcaster would continue to deliver mass live audiences and that ITVX will provide the live streaming part of this, with ‘live’ central to the new service.

ITVX will replace ITV Hub and ITV Hub+. The plan is for ITVX to launch in time for the FIFA World Cup finals, which start in late November. ITV wants to double the number of monthly active users (MAU) on ITV streaming over the next five years, but another key KPI is total consumption, with Kelly Williams, Managing Director, Commercial, at ITV, looking to “double or even triple consumption over the next five years.”

ITVX is effectively a new build streaming service – it is based on completely new technical and UX architecture, underpinned by “a significantly enhanced data capability.” Greater personalisation will be one of the most obvious consumer-facing benefits. Deep Bagchee, Chief Product Officer at ITV, promised a destination for discovering content that includes a much richer visual experience. “The more you watch, the more accurately ITVX gets to know you so we can personalise the product experience,” he explained. Children can create their own viewing profiles, in an example of the personalised UX features.

There is scope for dedicated show/events spaces within the new user interface and the FIFA World Cup Quatar will provide an early example of what is possible, where ITVX viewers will find World Cup related content including interview highlights and companion shows. The World Cup will also be the perfect introduction for a service that is partly designed to bring lighter TV viewers to ITV and then persuade them to stay. In the words of Williams: “People will come in and think, ‘This is a better and stronger service proposition’.”

The launch of ITVX is part of ITV’s previously announced strategy to increase its share of on-demand and streamed viewing while maintaining super-scale live audiences for advertisers – with the linear broadcast channels still central to the share-of-time and share-of-ad-revenue ambitions. The company confirmed: “It has become increasingly clear this year that live channels are incredibly important, whether people are watching broadcast or streaming versions. That will be a significant differentiator [for ITV and ITVX]. Viewers are increasingly choosing to watch live TV in a streaming environment,” said Williams during a briefing to media buyers.

ITV has promised an enhanced live experience via ITVX that includes better discoverability – partly driven by better search engine optimisation and by social sharing of big, live television moments.

Chris Goldson, Director of Commercial Marketing and Pitch Development at ITV, added: “We will be doubling down on live streaming as a differentiator, harnessing daytime, soaps, news and sport to ensure we continue to be the biggest game in town for those valuable mass audiences.”

The company will also leverage its own deep library of programming to feed series-stacking and boxset binge-viewing habits in the VOD space, and ITVX will provide a casual linear zapping experience for streamers via FAST channels (as well as standard linear channels). The FAST channels will be a themed curation of shows and other content, played out on a linear schedule. ITV says the common denominator for what goes in one of its FAST channels could be genre, an actor (e.g. you could have a David Tennant themed channel), cultural moments and calendar events, or they can be based upon a specific programme – with The Only Way is Essex, The Chase and Real Housewives offered as examples.

“FAST channels are big in the U.S., and we think we can be very strong in this space,” Williams declared. There will be 20 FAST channels on ITVX at launch and the broadcaster likened their curation to ITV putting together a Spotify playlist that they think their viewers will love. The FAST channels can be added and removed with ease, based on viewer demand, harnessing digital data smarts. The broadcaster aims to introduce a new FAST channel to ITVX every week.

ITV has also announced a significant increase in content investment, taking spend from £1.1 billion to £1.35bn per year, with streaming prioritised. The extra money will be used to attract harder-to-reach, [for TV advertisers] lighter TV viewers to the broadcaster. In total, ITVX will have 15,000 hours of content at launch versus the 4,000 available on ITV Hub today. ITV will welcome third-party content into ITVX. All of this justifies the broadcaster’s assertion that ITVX will be a streaming destination [rather than a catch-up service].

Goldson talked about bonfires and fireworks within the programme mix, with ‘bonfires’ being the always-on programming that keeps people coming back, underpinned by a wider choice of on-demand titles. ‘Fireworks’ are the programming launches, exclusives, series drops and “special moments” that create a big bang. The ‘bonfires’ will include a collection of feature films, with 50 films available on the service at any one time, regularly refreshed. ITV named some of its partners, including Warner Bros, Disney, NBCU, Sony and StudioCanal. “We expect to show 500 films for free in the first year alone,” Goldson revealed. “We will have extremely well-known franchises in their entirety, for free, in one place for the first time.”

ITV used the launch event to stress that ITVX is first-and-foremost an ad-funded service and that ITV’s future is all about free-to-air television. Because the service will include an ad-free subscription tier under the same roof – bringing what is currently ITV Hub+ into the same integrated platform – and because ITV at the same time announced that a lot of content will premiere in ITVX up to nine months before it goes onto broadcast linear TV, some assumptions were made that ITV was shifting further into the paid domain as a strategic objective. In fact, as you can read here, the new exclusive streaming windows apply to the free-to-view tier on ITVX as well as the paid version. The strategic shift embedded in the new windowing is not from free to paid, but from broadcast towards streaming.

One of the first ITVX exclusive premieres, this autumn, will be the flagship four-part drama Litvinenko, with David Tennant playing the lead role of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian Federal Security Services and KGB officer who was murdered in November 2006 by polonium poisoning, creating a security and diplomatic crisis.

As part of the new windowing strategy, every episode of a new series will also be dropped onto ITVX as soon as the programme airs on ITV broadcast television (if it is not premiered ahead of broadcast). “Viewers could watch all the remaining episodes that same night,” Goldson pointed out. “We tested this with five dramas last year and it brought in new viewers and added incremental viewing, so we are going to do it with 20 series in Year One of ITVX.”

Speaking about the strategy to give ITVX a 6-9 month exclusivity period on a significant amount of drama and documentary programming, Goldson said this content will receive a second surge of viewing when it is finally unleashed on the linear broadcast channels. “This is an opportunity to bring in new and younger audiences with refreshingly different types of ITV content as we are unshackled from the linear schedule,” he declared. Streaming-first Sci-Fi, Indie and Documentary programming is expected to bring new viewers to ITV.

The paid tier on ITVX will include content that is exclusive to subscribers plus the full BritBox experience including programming from BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5 (the UK’s other major ‘terrestrial’ broadcasters).

Rhys McLachlan, Director of Advanced Advertising at ITV, doubled down on the message that ITV is all about ad-supported television. “ITVX is an AVOD-led proposition; it is advertising funded front-and-centre. There is a subscription tier, with ITV Hub+ and BritBox being integrated into ITVX, but if you de-duplicate those subscribers, we have about one million subscribers. We have modest ambitions in this [subscription] area.”

Emphasising this point, Williams said ITV is “perhaps looking to double the subscription base over five years.” He declared: “It is not true that we are looking to take on Netflix and Amazon – this is about being a premium AVOD service. The premium tier is a small add-on.”

It is worth noting that ITV Hub+ – the current ad-free subscription streaming offer from ITV – is only ad-free for on-demand content, with live programming still carrying ads. This model will be carried over to the subscription ad-free tier of ITVX.

Speaking to advertisers and agencies during the ITVX briefing, Kate Waters, Director of Client Strategy at ITV, emphasised that ITV serves the whole country and [for the purposes of market research] the broadcaster has now defined the national audience into various viewing types, including those primarily looking for tentpole and flagship live entertainment and drama, and those described as VOD-first consumers who are looking for content that drives social conversation, and who skew younger. Another group are later adopters of digital technology who tend to also focus on British content, and yet another group are the streaming subscription stackers who are looking for quality rather than quantity of content. ITVX is designed to serve everyone.

McLachlan said ITVX will increase ITV’s addressable market, increasing the breadth and diversity of the audience as well as encouraging more people to watch more content. ITVX advertising will be 100% traded through Planet V. Advertisers can expect all the targeting options they are used to within ITV Hub, but McLachlan promised that targeting will also be turbo-charged, with more permutations possible by taking content multiplied by audience multiplied by context.

ITV AdLabs, ITV’s new strategy, tech and process innovation initiative, is currently developing an ACR-based solution that will read programme metadata to understand what is happening inside shows or films not just at programme-level but at scene-level. McLachlan gave the example of knowing when it is family mealtime within a show. It is this kind of context that he is referring to in the expanded content-audience-context planning options.

ITVX targeting is backed by privacy compliant data from ITV’s 33 million registered streaming users and ITV will use the new service launch to actively engage with consumers to understand more about them. This will be achieved using a fair exchange of value in a GDPR compliant way.

Asked about the likely ad loads on ITVX, McLachlan said there are no hard-and-fast rules, “and as the proposition grows, we will be much more agile in how we schedule breaks.”

In terms of app distribution, the expectation is that ITVX will appear on any platform where you find ITV Hub today.

Photo: ITV has concluded a wide ranging ITVX content deal with WarnerMedia International Television Distribution for programmes including UK premieres of The Sex Lives of College Girls (featured) and All American. More third-party content deals like this are anticipated.

More around this subject

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.

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