Take the pubescent pop sensation, Billie, and the thuggish QPR
player, Vinnie Jones, shake with a drop or two of champagne in LWT’s
bar, stir in a few low-grade celebrities, add a pyrotechnic display with
all the empty sparkle we’ve come to expect from TV PR and, as if by
magic, ITV2 appears.
On screen this new, young, vibrant TV contender was introduced to the
nation - or at least to lucky cable homes and those punters who have
managed to snaffle an ONdigital set-top box - by stars including Michael
Barrymore, Trevor McDonald, Ronan Keating, Samantha Janus, Terry
Venables and the casts of Corrie and Emmerdale.
But this rag-bag of tired and over-exposed celebrities hints at the
dichotomy behind ITV2’s positioning. ITV2 is being billed as a general
entertainment channel, aimed at slightly younger viewers than its parent
and, particularly, at a slightly more male audience.
The trouble is, the new channel is already steeped in the ways of
The ITV Network Centre’s marketing director, John Hardie, is running
ITV2 and the channel has recently clashed with old-guard ITV production
companies who are reportedly ’furious’ that ITV2 has awarded a third of
its commissions to independent production companies. Add the channel’s
odd mix of new, more edgy programming with reruns of ITV soaps and
popular series loved by traditional ITV viewers and it seems ITV2 will
struggle to find its own identity.
ITV2 is in danger of trying to be too many things to too many
The familiarity of the ITV name will help attract viewers but the danger
is they will be viewers already easily accessible through the main
Yet ITV2 represents a real opportunity for ITV. The comparisons with
BBC1 and BBC2 have passed into cliche but if ITV2 can replicate BBC2’s
relationship with its bigger sister, it can only add to the emotional
capital of the primary brand.
ITV can’t afford to take risks on its main channel - its own share
guarantees and advertisers’ demands won’t allow it. ITV2 potentially
provides a real solution. It offers the chance to test new and
innovative comedy and drama before showcasing them on the main ITV
channel. It also gives lighter ITV viewers a way into the ITV franchise
and is a route to building the audiences of the future.
In many ways, ITV2 should represent ITV’s R&D, backed by its modest
pounds 21 million budget for original programming. It’s a chance for ITV
to break free from the shackles of viewing share and advertiser pressure
and to put into practice some of the vision it has for the future. The
channel has introduced a radical - radical for ITV, anyway - airtime
sales policy based on fixed prices. It would be a pity if Billie and
Vinnie’s efforts fell flat because, on the programming front, ITV2 can’t
be similarly brave and innovative.