Media: Graduate Forum - Does ITV2 appeal to youth?

Is ITV2 cutting it as a channel for younger audiences, Alasdair Reid asks.

ITV2 isn't quite ten years old (it launched in December 1998), but it has already been forced to pose in an impressive array of guises.

In the run-up to its launch, some of ITV's more idealistic factions hoped that the new channel might become a programme incubator, doing the same sort of job that BBC2 used to do for the BBC.

Cutting-edge comedy was much mentioned - as was the potential for minority interest sports. Surely basketball was ripe for exploitation, and the rewards would be huge it if became the new snooker - which BBC2 had "discovered" and nurtured in the 70s.

It didn't quite work out that way - but in any case, the network's programme bosses had hit on a better idea. ITV2 was evolving into an extended outlet for new and existing ITV1 franchises, especially so-called reality shows such as The X Factor and I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me out of Here!.

It still contains trace elements of those two early roles, but in recent years, ITV2 has been evolving into a distinctive property in its own right - and back in the summer it scooped the Non-Terrestrial Channel of the Year award at the Edinburgh Television Festival.

Now, though, it might be about to enter an entirely new phase. In last week's strategy review, the ITV executive chairman, Michael Grade, announced that ITV2 would be given an additional £20 million budget in 2008, with a target to overtake five to become the number-three commercial network for 16- to 34-year-olds.

That's going to be a tall order. The US and US-derived chatshows - The Jeremy Kyle Show, Ricki Lake, Sally Jessy Raphael and Judge Judy - that grace ITV2's daytime schedule seem in danger of tainting the channel with an irredeemably old and downmarket feel.

So can it really ever hope to evolve into a default destination for young and discerning viewers? We took the radical step of asking some of them directly. Keeley Martin, a broadcast communications executive at Carat, says it has always been on her radar. She says: "I like what it does with films - for instance, when a big film is about to be released cinematically, ITV2 might run a prequel. I'd like to see it continue to do that sort of thing as well as continuing to develop its own ITV2 specific shows - such as Katie & Peter: The Baby Diaries - as well as doing the ITV1 follow-on stuff such as Xtra Factor. What ITV2 could do, for instance, is develop its own daily soap - something that only runs on multichannel and appeals to the same sort of audience as Hollyoaks."

But Chantal Oosman, a strategist at Naked Communications, isn't so sure: "If ITV2 wants to overtake five and E4 it will have to be content-driven, but I'm not sure there's any new creative approach or any clear sense of direction. The sort of thing that would interest me is more home-grown production. Look at E4's Skins, for instance. We want to see ourselves reflected on TV, not some weak Friends-type stuff - so I hope it doesn't go down the route of pilfering more American programming."

And Natasha Jackson, an administrator at COI, says she uses it mainly to catch up on soaps such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale. "I'll also watch it if I miss the X Factor and I liked Katie & Peter: The Baby Diaries."

But she's not at all impressed by its chatshows or its films and is genuinely surprised that the channel has youthful ambitions.

Sean Beaven, a television buyer at Media Planning Group, tends to agree. He concludes: "ITV2 feels to me like an extension of ITV1. During the day, it seems to be aimed at women aged 45-plus - and it doesn't change that approach at the weekends, when younger people who work are able to watch.

"After 7pm, it feels younger, but it could do better than Superman and Supernanny. Later, there might be Jack Osbourne or Xtra Factor and the films might be old blockbusters, but they tend to be decent. I don't particularly feel it's aimed at me though."

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YES - Keeley Martin, broadcast communications executive, Carat

"I think there's always been an intuitive feel that it would be younger in its appeal than ITV1. One reason I viewed was the spin-offs such as Xtra Factor, but I also like what it does with films."

MAYBE - Chantal Oosman, strategist, Naked

"It does have some good stuff - all my friends rave about Entourage. But my feeling is that it's mainly ITV1 offshoots and it doesn't really have an identity of its own. ITV still seems dated in its approach to multichannel TV."

NO - Natasha Jackson, administrator, COI

"I'm not into the chatshows they have on ITV2. And the films they have seem quite old. To me it's surprising that anyone would say it's aimed at young people. If it wants to do that, it has to have a programme like Hollyoaks."

NO - Sean Beaven, TV buyer, Media Planning Group

"My feeling is it needs to have more stuff made specially for ITV2 and it needs to be more disciplined in its scheduling. For many people, the fact that there's more X Factor on ITV2 is not a good enough reason to turn over."