ITV urged to keep eye on mass market ball

ITV’s plan to put its high definition digital channels into a BSkyB subscription package as part of a five-year strategy is not seen as a “game-changer” by experts.

Chief executive Adam Crozier revealed robust half-year figures yesterday but also admitted ITV’s shortcomings. He said broadcasting had changed rapidly in recent years and said: “ITV is not currently fit to compete in the changed environment.

“The business is overly dependent on TV spot advertising and ITV’s flagship channel is continuing to lose viewing share by platform.”

He outlined plans to maximise revenue through creating paid-for content, using product placements and advertiser-funded programmes – among other strategies – both in terrestrial and online formats.

But industry experts urged ITV not to lose focus on creating quality content to drive mass audiences and to make HD channels attractive.

Steve Hobbs, deputy managing director of Carat, says that on paper the strategy looked like a strong and much needed plan but, he said: “It risks an overemphasis on new revenue streams at the expense of a commercially successful core product at this crucial time in the economic recovery.”

Others challenged the paywall strategy, with one broadcaster source saying: “Sky subscribers will pay for what they see is high-quality or exclusive content. ITV doesn’t really fit that description.

“It’s a logical step in the long run, but by no means a game-changer and a pretty poor result after months of trying to come up with a pay idea.”

Chris Locke, UK trading director at Starcom Mediavest Group, said the HD initiative was “more of a dabble than a full blown strategy”, adding: “The sense of déjà-vu is overwhelming.”

Former agency executive Graham Brown, now of Media Sense, says a strong ITV can only be good for television and advertisers. But how to generate more impacts via ITV+1, more revenue via HD subs and global distribution, and better access via multiple platforms with a lower programming budget will be the challenge. “Maybe Crozier is betting on a more relaxed regulatory framework?”, he says.

Clients are circumspect about ITV’s plans. A Unilever spokesman said: “We welcome any opportunity for ITV to strengthen its business. A stronger business means greater investment in programming, which will ultimately benefit its viewers.”

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