9 key details: how ITVX’s first year has been going
It’s been nearly a year since ITV launched ITVX, its video-on-demand successor to ITV Hub.
Ahead of its annual Palooza upfronts next week, the broadcaster’s lead commercial, audience insights, and streaming content chiefs discussed key metrics, user behaviour, development of advertising formats, and content-release strategies. Addressing media buyers, advertisers and journalists in an online webinar on 15 November, the ITV executives had a lot to say and even more to tease for 2024.
Here are nine important details from the event.
1. ITVX has hit the 2.5bn streams mark
“Since its launch in December last year, ITVX has delivered over 2.5 billion streams, that’s a 69% increase versus the same period last year,” Neil Mortensen, director of ITV insights group, said.
The broadcaster is “really pleased with how it’s launched and how it’s landed,” he added, given that it took ITVX just seven months to achieve what ITV Hub did in a full year for number of streams. That is partly driven by marketing, with “90%” of adults in the UK being aware of the brand.
ITV had announced in late August — more than two months ago — that ITVX had achieved 2 billion streams. Before, that, it had gone from zero at launch (8 December 2022) to 1 billion streams by Easter Sunday (9 April). This suggested that ITVX had experienced a summer slowdown as it took longer to get its second billion.
When asked to clarify exactly when ITV hit this audience milestone, a spokesperson told The Media Leader: “ITVX hit 2.5 billion in October and is above that now.”
In any event, those 2.5 billion streams translate to 1 billion hours of content watched this year — up 62%. And now ITVX has an average monthly reach of 21 million adults.
2. ITV plans to launch a ‘pause ad’ format on ITVX…
Kelly Williams, ITV’s managing director of commercial, revealed that ITVX is slated to feature a new ad format in which a brand’s message will appear on screen when a user pauses a programme.
This will “probably” launch at the beginning of 2024, Williams (pictured, above) said.
As The Media Leader reported this week, this format is already in place on rival BVOD service Channel 4.
3. …and target ‘200,000’ cooking moments
Williams said ITV is exploring other formats and innovations but stressed he wanted to do this in consultation with advertisers and its in-house innovation division ITV AdLabs.
One innovation he mentioned was developing the ability to target ads based on “moments” within shows, rather than just types of shows.
He explained: “We’re just about to go into trial with our automated contextual targeting product. It’s the latest version of it, which means that we can allow advertisers to target very specific moments in shows.
“So, for example, we probably have about, I don’t know, 2,000 hours of cookery content to export. We probably have 200,000 moments when cooking happens, so we can really create very targeted contextual moments.”
That’s presumably a lot of people (or AI) creating tags for whenever a wooden spoon is shown on screen.
4. ITV is adopting a ‘Magnificent Seven’ content strategy to be ‘always on’
Craig Morris, ITVX’s managing editor (the service’s head of content), chose to reference a 1960 Western classic when describing a key element of the broadcaster’s 2024 streaming strategy.
Morris (pictured, above), said: “I’ve called [it] our Magnificent Seven… [U]nlike linear, you don’t really want months in streaming where you’re not doing a great deal or it’s a little quieter — you need to keep this regular drumbeat running all the way through the year.
“So I call it ‘The Magnificent Seven’ because we’ve got to reach lots of different audiences simultaneously; you’ve got to reach them every single month of the year. And so our ambition for 2024 is to take all of these areas like linear boxsets and make sure every single month we’re giving people one to three big new dramas or series to watch.”
5. Free-to-air boxsets ‘really important’
ITVX’s archive and film content now make up over a quarter (28%) of streams, Mortensen said, and the broadcaster is growing its TV boxset offering which can be viewed free-to-air, including US imports such as Vampire Diaries, Smallville and Community.
“This is really important because… they all have been previously behind paywalls either on other streamers, or places like Sky, and they still exist in some of those places. But crucially, we now offer them for free.”
Mortensen (pictured, above) went on: “These acquisitions, our archive and our film content have been in steady growth since launch. They now make up 28% of ITV excess streaming. And lots of this new content is doing really well for younger audiences. For example, 73% of audiences to US comedy were 16-to-44 adults, driven by titles like Everybody Hates Chris, Superstore and The Sex Lives of College Girls.”
6. Declining importance of TV overnights
Ayshe Aplin, ITV’s group sales & partnerships controller, declared that ITVX is “changing the way we evaluate the performance of our shows.”
For example, drama series Vera has gained one-third of its total audience on ITVX in the month following it first airing on linear.
The whole series of Unforgotten, meanwhile, was dropped on ITVX after the first episode aired on ITV1. By the time the whole series had aired on linear, ITVX had commanded two-thirds of the total audience because, Aplin said, “viewers are really hungry to binge”.
That means ITV is, as Aplin said, “learning not to talk about how our show has done, but about how it’s doing.”
“An overnight audience doesn’t necessarily tell us everything we need to know anymore because shows live only for much longer on ITVX and they build audiences over time,” she added.
7. Windowing ‘can be a PVR killer’
On the subject of so-called ‘windowing’, where broadcasters choose the timing of launching episodes of series, Mortensen stressed ITV is constantly in “test and learn” mode with regard to content releases. The key difference between ITVX and its predecessor ITV Hub is that ITV would become more comfortable launching content on its new VOD player before linear.
At no point during the presentation did the ITV executives discuss a concern with cannibalising linear audiences. Indeed, when speaking to The Media Leader ahead of ITVX launch last year, ITV CEO Carolyn McCall talked about the service creating a “virtuous circle”.
Not only that: Mortensen remarked that “windowing can be a PVR killer”, referring to personal video recorders which are used to record free-to-air broadcasts on external hard drives.
“Less PVR usage equals more ads seen in real time,” he explained. “And that’s something I think we can all get behind, I’m sure.
“The ITVX premiere dramas that have appeared exclusively on ITVX, and then launched at a later date on linear, have increased the proportion of viewing to ITVX VOD, and decreased PVR viewing down to 20%.
“Linear drops, where we make all episodes available on ITVX after the first episode launches on linear, reduce PVR usage down to 31%.
“And, of course, this is all in contrast to a traditional linear premiere model that gives audiences on linear one show a week. This delivers a much higher PVR usage and can be usually between 40 and 50%.”
8. Big Brother leads ITVX’s FAST streams
Fast advertising-support TV (FAST) has grown significantly in the UK this year. Kantar research in October revealed that FAST was experiencing “rapid growth” and was being accessed by one-sixth (16%) of British households regularly.
ITV’s presentation shone a light on how FAST is performing for a major UK broadcaster on VOD.
“This year, FAST channels have engaged 3.5 million users and generated a total of 25 million streaming hours across ITVX,” Aplin said.
Remembering that ITV quoted 1 billion streaming hours total for ITVX, this would mean that FAST is responsible for one 40th (2.5%) of time streamed on the platform.
Aplin (pictured, above) added that ITV is also testing live streams for Big Brother that sit “within the FAST channel space”, which generated half a million streaming hours and October. The reality show, which was rebooted on ITV this autumn, is now “number one in our FAST channel charts,” she said.
9. A ‘stickier’ service
“The service is becoming stickier”, Mortensen said.
That’s because, he explained, ITVX is acquiring more users, ITV is getting better at retaining them, and it is “reactivating” lapsed users.
He said: “Across the year, an average of over half a million users registered for an account each month, which is 11%.
“We now have an average of 9 million loyal users that come into ITVX month after month — 42% better than it was last year.”
He added: “Each month on average, we have 3 million lapsed users coming in. This is up 14% and it’s one of the key metrics for us for the year ahead.”
ITV CEO Carolyn McCall will be interviewed by The Media Leader editor-in-chief Omar Oakes about the first year of ITVX at our upcoming event, The Future of TV Advertising Global.