IBC '17: ITV and Channel 4 Tout Value of OTT

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UK commercial broadcasters ITV and Channel 4 are growing online audiences with an approach that adheres closely to the traditional TV experience—and think that SVOD giants will follow suit.

Traditional TV is at a cross roads. Audiences to linear channels remain huge, yet broadcasters also have a large and growing online audience online to service. Handling the balance between online and traditional audience is critical—and two UK broadcasters are finding that eschewing the presentational approach of Netflix and Amazon is paying dividends.

"Increasingly we should look at TV as the paradigm for OTT rather trying to recreate VOD services," Faz Aftab, director, commercial technology and operations online for ITV told the IBC Conference. "SVOD services (like Netflix) want do live. They want to release weekly episodes or and launch goldmine sports or live services. They are trying to come closer to where we are and we are trying to build and enhance what we do incredibly well. The appointment to view phenomena is far from over."

Aftab pointed to viewing figures for recent hit reality show Love Island, which attracted half of all live views online.

"The programme started on the linear channel at 9 p.m., and we saw traffic begin to soar on our app at 8:55 pm. People were tuning in on Android, iOS, PCs and Macs. It's not the kind of programme a young audience will want to view in front of mum and dad on the main screen, but it is appointment to view."

ITV Hub, the broadcaster's online portal, has 20 million regular users.

"We've tried to stay closer to live TV and not go to the SVOD paradigm," Aftab said. "We're trying to make VOD possible on TV viewer's terms. We can drive audiences of 6 to 11 million [on linear] and we know it is working for our on-demand series. It is the contextual setting which is different to watching on the main channel."

All 4 is Channel 4's VOD proposition, contributing 10% of the broadcaster's revenue. Its head of product, Sarah Milton, concurred: "It may be counterintuitive to watch a linear stream in an app on the TV but it is a trend we are witnessing and we want to enable more of this. The game-changer for online is the ability to restart live in the app."

Both executives attributed a reason for the success of their VOD propositions to using manual curation rather than being dictated to by data.

"You should use data but not in isolation of the vast knowledge we have about how to put quality programming in front of people," said Aftab. "The art of scheduling is trying to get content to a person that they may like but that they have not watched before. As a mass market broadcaster it is individual personalization on a mass scale. We're taking traditional scheduling and blending it with data to help people discover."

Milton explained that All 4's user interface was a blend of pure algorithm with editorial curation. "The optimal combination is human and machine—having a person who adds a narrative to content in context of editorial."

However, neither executive felt that IP video delivery was sufficiently capable yet to take over from broadcast.

"IP is great, but not as great as delivering to a mass audience," said Aftab. "If you need to deliver football to seven million people then IP is going to be creaky."

ITV is reportedly planning to introduce targeted advertising over the next few months. Channel 4 has already done so, and recently added personalized audio ads. Added Milton: "Targeting people in terms of ads sales means we are now making the same revenue per view on All 4 as for any of our linear channels. In theory, we don't mind where the view takes place. In practice that doesn't mean we can yet handle all the traffic over IP."

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