ITV’s CEO Carolyn McCall on ITVX, Holly and Phil and the threat of Netflix's new ad tier

ITV’s CEO Carolyn McCall on ITVX, Holly and Phil and the threat of Netflix's new ad tier

By Tara Conlan,
Monday, 17th October 2022
ITV CEO Carolyn McCall
ITV CEO Carolyn McCall (credit: Richard Kendal)
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ITV’s CEO discusses advertising-supported streaming and digital-first production.

Session chair Amol Rajan: I understand that ITV has a new product you are keen to talk about: what is ITVX that ITV Hub is not? 

Carolyn McCall: ITV Hub was a catch-up service that was launched six or seven years ago with very basic technology. It was a very clunky user ­experience and it had about 9,000 hours of content. It was never really intended to be a destination…. 

Viewers’ habits have shifted… there’s no question that people are going to streaming services because there’s a huge amount of content they can browse and pick from – they have choice. We had to do a big step change and launch this service sooner rather than later…. 

We think we will have more fresh content every week than any other provider…. We haven’t tampered with our linear budgets, so we still have our network budget, which is about £1.1bn. ITVX has a [dedicated budget of] about £160m [for] content, with another £40m going on technology and data. That £160m will go digital first… on ITVX first. It will run eventually on channels, but you won’t be able to get it anywhere else and every week there’ll be a fresh new drop. 

How confident are you, or can you be, that ITVX will not cannibalise linear­TV viewing? 

When I talk to shareholders, it’s a question that comes up all the time…. We didn’t take… money from the linear budgets... because they’re all doing very well; every single channel is profitable. 

We’ve got this fantastic ability to do both things. This is a free service, it’s AVoD-led, which means we can monetise the advertising on ITVX. We have an ad platform that we invested in four years ago, Videology. It now does highly personalised targeted advertising; the agencies love it and it’s doing very well. 

Love Island 2022 winners Davide and Ekin-Su (credit: ITV)

A lot of people say that some of your younger demographic have a loyalty to ITV built on the big events – Love Island, Big Brother when it comes back, football – and what you’re trying to create now is sticky habitual behaviour so people binge watch other series. 

The issue for Hub was… they’d come in for the whole of Love Island, then they’d disappear… as there was nothing else for them to watch. On ITVX, there’s 15,000 hours-plus of content for free and therefore they will find loads of things [to watch]. 

There are four main revenue streams for ITV at the moment: linear advertising, digital advertising, digital subscribers and your studios business. How will the balance between those four change over the next few years? 

I think the subscriber business will remain at about 10% of our revenues…. I think digital revenue will grow…. Studios is 50% of our revenue; I’d also expect to see that grow, as Studios is a growth business – it’s doing very well. 

We might already be in a recession, and you are ad-funded. How badly are you going to be hit? 

We’re not only ad-funded… Studios does give us a bit of a cushion…. If, indeed, we are in recession, we all know the economy and advertising across the market are linked, so we will be looking at various scenarios. I’d also say that advertisers really do value TV advertising… through Covid, that really came to the fore… the rate of return on [TV] advertising is four times what it is in other media. 

If your underlying figures, including revenues, were up the last year, why is your share price taking such a hit? 

The share price of a lot of UK companies has taken a massive hit. It worries me; it’s one of those things you can’t control…. That’s not to say we can’t tell our story more compellingly – I think we have to.  

But I do think there’s this weird thing in the market, which is that even though some companies don’t make a profit, they’re valued at 15 times [their revenues] and companies that are making a lot of profit, such as ITV… are undervalued. I think it’s because people have been forecasting the erosion of linear-TV for a very long time and that is built into the market and they just don’t value it in the way they should. 

What is your concern when it comes to the long-promised update to the 2003 Communications Act? 

My biggest concern is that the media bill will not be given the urgency and priority it vitally needs. 

Have you got a new presenter for Love Island

Would you like the job? 

I’ve got plenty of time on my hands; chat to Tim [Davie]. Have you got one? 

Not yet. 

Have you got a new presenter for Big Brother

Not announced yet. 

I’m around. Very disappointed to be overlooked in both cases. 

You can’t do everything. 

What exactly did Holly [Willoughby] and Phil [Schofield] do wrong? 

Honestly, nothing… they did have accreditation. They were sent by This Morning to do a piece for 20 September, which ran; they were [there] to do interviews with people inside and outside. They didn’t displace anyone in the queue and, actually, they’ve been very misrepresented and that’s why, unusually, we made a statement to say all of those things. It does show you how… misinformation spreads and it’s really horrible for them. 

But if they followed the rules, why has their reputation taken such a battering? 

You tell me. Is it social media? 

Something about them… really hit a nerve. Domino’s Pizza tweeted: “Apologies to anyone waiting on their pizza, we’ve just received an order from Holly and Phil.” 

We talked to [Domino’s]. We said to them, “What are you doing?!” We work with Domino’s… and they said: “We think it’s really funny, don’t you?” And we said, “No!” They just thought it was funny; they didn’t think of the impact they would have on how people might pick that up and start meme-ing it.  

That’s what happens with these things. They did not do anything wrong. 

A lot of people seem to think they should have queued up like members of the public… why has this become such a big story? 

I don’t know. I think sometimes that minority shrillness can become very, very loud and be picked up and become a story.  

It’s not about them. They’re very ­popular, they mean very well, they do lots of good stuff… I’m hoping it will all just pass. They’re very professional … and very good at what they do and This Morning does very well for us. 

Have GB News and Talk TV affected your underlying business? 

Actually, no. I think the more voices the better. 

How big a problem is it for you if ­Netflix gets into advertising? 

It is starting in November… the fact that Disney and Netflix are going to have an ad-lite tier is interesting, first, because it’s about how powerful TV is – because their sell will be more like a TV-sell. Second, they could expand the ­market [and] I think they could be complementary to our audience; they will extend reach on schedules…. None of that is a bad thing.  

In Session Seven, ‘UK keynote: Carolyn McCall’, ITV’s CEO was interviewed by BBC journalist Amol Rajan. The producer was Sue Robertson. Report by Tara Conlan.