ITV, one of the UK’s most prominent terrestrial television channels, is looking to translate its expertise in making programmes for the box in the corner to more modern screens. Following its hiring of Huffington Post UK’s editor-in-chief Stephen Hull as the new digital chief in March, ITV has announced the launch of three new digital-only news shows, presumably with the intention of broadening the reach of its international news brand as its non-National Advertising Revenue (NAR) shows healthy growth.
The three shows – ‘Now What?’, ‘Ask A Woman’, and ‘Young, British and Muslim’ – use existing talent from ITV’s news section, which, combined with Hull’s track record at Huffington Post UK and metro.co.uk, and ITV’s traditionally high production values, should serve to allay fears that this is ITV doing digital video for the sake of it. Instead, in an interview with The Drum, Hull noted that the shows have the mandate to “show that digital media and publishing can be grown-up, articulate and thoughtful”.
The quality of the programming is all but guaranteed to be extremely high, then – though ITV’s decision to focus on building a product before it sells sponsorship might raise some eyebrows, even if, as Hull notes: “There are loads of carcasses on the digital publishing motorway of businesses who tried to sell something before they built it.”
Presumably ITV believes the shows will add to its digital proposition, which currently includes the ITV Hub and its premium subscription option, which removes the ads for those who choose to pay it. But the digital video space is ever more crowded, and 2018 will undoubtedly see more networks, brands and studios launch their own standalone subscription services, ramping up the competition for existing video-on-demand (VOD) services.
That explosion is expertly explained by Gady Epstein:
“Mr Landgraf, who coined the term “peak TV”, worries that at some point there will be too many streaming services, much as there are too many cable channels now. A great shakeout will follow and the tech giants will have the advantage. Netflix and Amazon have both deep pockets and a head start in streaming customers; the studios will struggle to play catch-up.”
For instance, while the younger age groups ITV is targeting with these news shows are more likely to pay for digital video…
… they’re less likely to pay for news, making the news-based shows a slightly iffier proposition.
That’s on top of the fact that, historically, creating quality news content is expensive to do well and creates a product that has a shelf life measured in days rather than weeks. Small wonder that streaming giants like Netflix are ploughing billions into creating flat-out entertainment, that digital standalone news sites still rely primarily on text content with evergreen video embedded where possible, and that digital news video operations like The Young Turks rely on a mix of ad revenue and subscriptions for growth.
So what will it take for ITV’s new shows – and its overall digital proposition – to stand out and thrive among those other services? Ultimately, it all comes down to UX.
Reducing the friction of everything from the sign-up process, using the interface, making sure that digital video is available whenever and wherever subscribers need it – only the VOD services that can prove to audiences they deliver on all those criteria are likely to survive. Even the best, most slickly-produced drama series in the world is worth squat if your UX is slipshod or tricky to use.
And the sheer amount of competition out there means that any new entrant into the digital video space will be judged against the best out there. Netflix, YouTube, even Facebook Live, all go out of their way to innovate and ensure that their users receive the best quality of experience possible, and it’s on the new players to prove they can match those standards. As UX expert Justin Ramedia puts it (emphasis mine):
“Netflix, through an easy-to-use interface, showed us how simple watching entertainment through the internet could be. They used strategic partnerships with Nintendo, Xbox, Roku, Amazon and more to ensure that people didn’t have to watch from their computers. Anyone could sit with their friends and family and stream thousands of hours of media whenever they liked. That genie won’t go back into the bottle.“
It’s no surprise that UX is often the focus of Netflix’s new hires, either.
Over the past few years ITV has clearly prioritised improving the UX of its video HUB – the ease of signing up, finding and viewing shows today is heads and shoulders above what it was even in 2015, for instance. The issue is, as Ian Burrell notes for The Drum, ITV is a relatively late entrant to the digital video ecosystem, and it now has to content with the inertia of audiences used to paying for other VOD services, and an increasingly crowded VOD space as well.
If it wants to keep its head above water, commissioning new shows won’t be enough to allow it to stand out. Instead, it needs to focus on ensuring the UX of its entire digital service, from sign-up to delivery, is on par with or better than the giants of the digital video world.