ITV’s strategic brand stretch pays off: ITVX
I was lucky to work back in 2021 with ITV on the revitalisation of ITV, including the strategy for fully stretching into streaming. I posted in November last year on the launch of the new streaming offer, ITVX, and promised to do an update after about a year. And so, here we are! ITVX has just been named Media Brand of the Year (1), on the back of positive early results in the marketplace (Jan-June 2023):
- Streaming hours up +29% and up +56% in the key 16-34 age group
- One billion streams reached after only four months
- Monthly active users (MAU’s) up +29% to 12.5 million (2)
- Digital revenue up to £218m, +24% vs year ago and more than double the level of 2020 (see below)
- Consideration score up from 29 to 38, from sixth to fourth in the rankings (3)
In this post, we look at some of the key learnings from this successful example of strategic brand stretching.
1. REVITALISE YOUR CORE BRAND
The ITV team had a big brand portfolio strategy call to make early in the project when it came to the streaming market. One route was to create a new, youth-targeted streaming brand, without the terrestrial broadcast history of ITV. This was the approach used by NBC for its streaming service, with the launch of its Peacock brand. This new brand route had quite a lot of support inside in the business, including from some senior managers.
However, the team eventually made the bold decision to back the core brand. They believed the positive brand equity in ITV outweighed any negative “baggage” that might hold back the new streaming offer. Despite being seen as a bit outdated, ITV still had a lot of positive associations. In particular, the brand was seen as offering popular entertainment that reflected and connected with modern Britain.
The first big benefit of the chosen approach was the potential of ITVX to revitalise the ITV brand as a whole. There are some early signs that this approach is paying off. “ITV are a brand that excites agencies and advertisers again,” commented judges at the Media Week Awards (1). The second benefit of the ITVX approach is avoiding the significant cost of creating, launching and supporting a whole new, youth-targeted brand. This latter approach is hard to pull off, as it diverts time, talent and energy from the core, as we posted on here using Joon from Air France as an example.
2. CREATE A CLEAR POSITIONING
The key with revitalising a long established brand like ITV is to focus on refreshing what made you famous, rather than on fixing your weaknesses. We call this approach “brand it like Bond”, taking inspiration from how brand Bond has been revitalised over the last 50 years.
In the case of ITVX, the 10,000+ hours of content at launch was many times more than the previous ITV Hub service had, but still less than Netflix. And All4, Channel 4’s free on-demand platform, was already positioned as the UK’s biggest free streaming service. So, trying to compete by focusing on scale was going to be hard.
A key strength ITV did have versus the US streamers (e.g. Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+) was live, “event-TV” such as Love Island, I’m a Celebrity and the Rugby World Cup. This strength was the basis for the positioning that performed strongest in consumer research: “The UK’s Freshest Streaming Service”. In contrast to Netflix, the idea was for ITVX to always have something new and exciting streaming.
3. INVEST IN CORE PRODUCT QUALITY
Winding back to June 2021, we can see how far behind ITV had fallen in the streaming wars. The brand’s ageing catch-up service, ITV Hub, crashed under the volume of traffic tuning in for the Euros soccer tournament. “Viewers were forced to watch the same corner kick on repeat, stuck at three minutes into the game, or unable to get onto the coverage at all,” reported the Independent (4). The interface looked outdated and clunky when compared to Netflix, Disney+ and even BBC iPlayer. And the amount of content on the platform was also way behind the competition.
So, the first and most fundamental part of the ITVX launch was investing in creating, researching and developing a core product that offered a step-change versus ITV Hub:
- Interface: much improved visually and easier to use
- Original content: the hotly anticipated six-part cold war drama A Spy Amongst Friends tarring Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce and Litvinenko starring David Tennant
- Britbox: incorporation of this treasure chest of British TV, from BBC and ITV, into the paying tier of ITVX
- Content quantity: over 10,000 hours of content at launch, 2.5x more than on ITV Hub, since increased to 22,000 hours
4. DRIVE DISTINCTIVENESS
The ITV team have got off to a good start driving distinctiveness to stand out in the overcrowded streaming market. Awareness has grown from 77% to 82%, overtaking All 4 and Now TV. In terms of ad awareness, the jump has been even bigger, with ITVX topping the chart with a score of 28% by March 2023, double the score from November 2022.
The first and most important way to drive distinctiveness is to “bake the brand in” to the product. In the case of ITX, the idea of the freshest streaming service is brought to life in multiple ways:
- Live, event-TV such as the Rugby World Cup on at the moment
- One flagship show being premiered on ITVX each week
- An ever-changing host of exclusive themed ‘FAST’ channels, in line with viewer preferences (e.g. Love Island, World Cup, Xmas).
In terms of naming, ITV+ was a lead contender early in the project, given that ‘plus’ had become the de-facto standard for streaming (Apple TV+, Disney+, Paramount+ etc.). However, this would have risked “blending into the streaming sea of sameness,” as explained the agency working with the team on the naming and visual identity, Dixon Baxi (5). This name could also have suggested a paid service, whereas being free was one of the core benefits.
In contrast, the ITVX name helped drive distinctiveness. “X is a multiplier – sleek, premium and daring, as well as symbolising potential, scale, anticipation and entertainment,” as Dixon Baxi explain.
Distinctive visual identity
The visual identity of ITVX has also been used to drive distinctiveness. The colour yellow is bright, bold and stands out. In addition, the letter X is cleverly used to both create impact and build brand name awareness. In video and on the app, the ITVX brand is also animated and has a new sonic identity too.
The X name has also been used more recently in communication of upcoming programmes, to again drive distinctiveness and reinforce the brand name (below)
In conclusion, ITVX shows how strategic stretching has the potential to drive growth whilst also revitalising the core brand.