FORUM: Can ITV’s digital second-string station succeed? - Digital is starting to feel almost real. Last week, ITV unveiled plans for its digital second-string station, ITV2. There will be some youth programming, a remit to pilot shows for the main

If it does nothing else, environmentally friendly ITV2 should win some conservation awards. It’s going to be in the recycling business.

If it does nothing else, environmentally friendly ITV2 should win

some conservation awards. It’s going to be in the recycling


Way back in the mists of time, when Barry Took on Points of View was

asked ’why oh why oh why?’ incessantly by viewers, most of the

complaints were about repeats. So it’s probably just as well that we

don’t get them any more. Over the years, repeats have reinvented

themselves in a ’less is more’ sort of way as TV Gold or, rather

disarmingly, ’another opportunity to view’.

When it unveiled its programme plans last week, ITV2 (launching

alongside British Digital Broadcasting later this year) stretched the

art of euphemism to breaking point. It will be majoring on ’catch-up

TV’. Not old TV. No flares or dodgy bubble perms here - this will be

’time shift’ rather than ’decade shift’ TV. Yesterday’s TV dinner,


This might just confirm some cynics in their suspicions about


Happily, though, there was more on offer. More than 30 per cent of the

schedule will be newly commissioned programmes - and the new material

will target a younger audience than is normally found on the main ITV

brand. There will be a daily hour-long live teenage chatshow and music

and video review programmes.

That wasn’t all. There was a subtle, long-term theory about what ITV2

might bring to the party. Excited network executives argued that the new

channel would give ITV a set-up similar to the one the BBC has enjoyed

for years. The second-string channel can be used as a nursery to bring

on programming that wouldn’t survive if exposed early on to the harsh

commercial pressures of the main channel.

Men Behaving Badly is the most obvious case in point. The show was

dropped by ITV after disappointing ratings on the first series, only to

be taken up and nurtured over the long term on the BBC - which is still

reaping the benefits.

It’s a reasonably convincing argument - even if it’s one for the very

long term. Should advertisers and media specialists be excited? Of

course, argues Martin Bowley, chief executive of Carlton UK Sales. Its

main proposition will be the delivery of a younger, more male-biased

audience. That’s not to be sniffed at. Bowley also says no-one should

underestimate the power of the programme nursery argument. ’When BDB

builds up real volume, ITV2 will be the ideal place to incubate

programming, a dark laboratory where meaningful experiments can take


But he’s also keen for the market to retain a grasp of the big


’I think people should be excited by the BDB package as a whole rather

than any single element, especially as it will offer interactive at some

point in the future and will make multichannel homes the norm.’

Bowley claims he is already selling interactive advertising


But are agencies ready for interactive? ’I hope they are,’ Bowley


’They missed the boat on the last big development - sponsorship - by a


Will they miss this boat too? Patrick Burton, group media manager of

Allied Domecq, says agencies could try harder - but he’s not always

impressed with media owners either. ’We see our 24 Websites as the

lead-in for our digital interactive TV strategy. Victoria Wine is on

Barclay Square (a virtual shopping mall on the Internet) and we’re

looking at British Interactive Broadcasting (interactive home shopping

services on the BSkyB digital satellite platform).

’The big advertising question is how this sort of thing will affect our

advertising creative work. Do we need one-minute or 30-second

commercials or ten-second pointers to our Websites? I don’t know of many

UK agencies who are tackling that issue head on. I think a lot of people

are looking abroad for guidance - which is disappointing.’

But how does ITV2 fit into that big picture? Burton gives it a cautious

thumbs-up. ’In the initial stages, the audience will be small and the

programme budget will be similarly small. I know ITV is looking to the

long term - but that will be the reality for the next 18 months to two

years. As for targeting the youth audience - that would be of great

interest to the drinks business, particularly 20- to 27-year-olds.’

Tony Kenyon, chief executive of the Negotiation Centre, is also

cautious. ’Any emphasis on a younger audience will be beneficial but I

remain to be convinced about the practicalities. When the time comes for

you to buy a digital TV, it’s going to be the house’s main set. If

you’re watching Coronation Street, you’re not going to appreciate your

teenage offspring changing over to ITV2, are you?’

’The BBC 2 analogy is interesting, not just from the point of view of

providing a programming nursery. ITV has never been able to stay with

sports such as tennis or golf. Now it can stick them on to the second

channel as the BBC does.’

How about the accusation that neither media nor creative agencies have

got to grips with strategic issues surrounding digital? There’s more

than a little truth in that, Kenyon admits. ’But hang on, guys,’ he

adds. ’They ought to ask themselves whether they are funding their

suppliers sufficiently to do this sort of thing.

Margins are under increasing pressure at media companies and it gets

more difficult with every new channel that comes along. At the simplest

level it means we have to book more spots. It means more work. The

reality is that we’ll have to wait and see how digital works out - it’s

never the way people predict - and react when the picture becomes


Steve Booth, managing partner of Booth Lockett Makin, argues that ITV’s

biggest challenge will be to resist the easy short-term option where

ITV2 is concerned. ’The repeats strand will be the key audience driver

in the early days. If this is allowed to dominate, then the channel’s

identity - with viewers and advertisers - will be a shadow of ITV1.

’But the format as outlined could be complementary and differentiation

from the main ITV brand will be vital in attracting those who don’t want

more of the same. I don’t see much appetite for more ITV in the future -

rather the opposite. ITV has an opportunity to silence its critics by

showing what it is capable of given a blank sheet of paper.’