Media Forum: Can itv.com excite clients?

Should advertisers be enthusiastic about the relaunch, Alasdair Reid asks.

Michael Grade gave a rather rousing performance at the relaunch of itv.com. This, those who were impressed say, is exactly why Grade, who arrived as the network's new executive chairman back in January, will be so good for ITV.

Here he was, confidently embracing the challenges of the digital media landscape, unveiling the results of a £20 million investment to relaunch the network's flagship website.

Itv.com will henceforth be a portal through which viewers can watch digitally streamed, internet-delivered programmes - simulcasts of the existing ITV schedules and catch-up opportunities for recent shows, plus access to the deeper archives. There will also be site-specific extra content - interviews with soap cast members and the like.

And ITV won't make the same mistakes as those damned fools (we paraphrase) in the music business, who've managed to cede control of their businesses to the download community. With the streaming technology ITV is using, you can see, but you can't steal.

One way or another, ITV has to put at least a toe in this water, what with the BBC launching new iPlayer technology that will extend the sophistication of its internet-delivered programming-on-demand services. It will also be aware that its main commercial rival, Channel 4, has scored a modest success with its 4oD service.

Last week saw the soft launch of a fully commercial Joost service too. So Grade's robust confidence last week was broadly welcomed. "This launch is a major step in ITV's development," he said.

Fine words. But does the advertising community agree? Oliver Cleaver, the media director of Kimberly-Clark EMEA, isn't so sure. He explains: "I think that sometimes in all the excitement about how media is transmitted, there's a danger of losing sight of how advertising is transmitted. Are opportunities to see the same as they are on regular TV? It's not the relaxed, sit-back experience of conventional TV. So, if viewers see one of our ads in that environment, are they in the right mood? The danger from a media owner point of view is that this becomes a distraction, while ITV neglects the core of its business. The Saturday night schedule on ITV1 is what Grade should arguably be concentrating on right now, rather than finding ways to get programmes on my computer."

Neil Jones, the managing director of Carat, likes what he's seen and is sure it will attract an audience. "It's easy to navigate and I like the user- generated content idea - people can upload comment contributions and the best will be shown during News at Ten. I think the site will attract a lot more traffic. We'll soon see a situation where broadband is available in more than 50 per cent of homes, so I can see this growing rapidly," he says.

There was considerably more scepticism from the digital agency community, however. Ross Jenkins, the head of media at Profero, says ITV's big selling point - the power of TV as a big-impact medium - won't wash in this environment. "Conventional TV advertising loses its impact when you watch on a small screen," he argues. "I can't see itv.com attracting new viewers who aren't already part of the ITV audience, either. I think many people in the digital market are more interested in what Joost.com will be offering - for instance, in behavioural targeting opportunities."

Perhaps, Richard Oliver, the managing partner, investment, at Universal McCann, agrees - but he says we have to give ITV a chance to get this right. He concludes: "No-one doubts that this is absolutely something that ITV needs to do - and that it has to be ad-funded. And I think it may well be attractive for advertisers and agencies - even if they won't be able to tell you in any definitive way why it's attractive. The big question, though, is what is going to work. The ITV site at the moment is just streaming - so initially, there might not be a lot of new things you can do. But it won't always be like that."

MAYBE - Oliver Cleaver, media director, Kimberly-Clark EMEA

"Media owners will have to reassure me advertising sits as happily in that environment as it does on a big TV in the living room. If they can't, it's no more than an interesting piece of digital technology."

YES - Neil Jones, managing director, Carat

"I think it's very good. I don't think the impact of content is diluted because it's on a smaller screen. Arguably, because people will be actively choosing to watchTV this way, they will be more engaged."

NO - Ross Jenkins, head of media, Profero

"For advertisers, itv.com basically offers the same old interruptive model - and when you are in an (internet) environment, where you expect to be in control, choosing what content to watch, I'm not sure how positively people will respond to that."

MAYBE - Richard Oliver, managing partner, investment, Universal McCann

"The question, where online TV is concerned, is finding what sort of approach will work. It will be about finding ways to incorporate ads, while making it a more rewarding experience for viewers because of those ads."

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com.

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