UK broadcaster ITV is launching its first free-to-air channel since 2006. ITVBe, featuring lifestyle and entertainment programming, will start transmissions at 7pm today. The channel will be carried on all platforms and will be ITV’s fifth full-time free-to-air channel. ITV launched ITV Encore, a drama channel, on pay TV in September.
ITVBe, funded from advertising and sponsorship, is close in profile to ITV2, targeting a 16-34 age group. ITV says the channel is likely to appeal to mainly to a younger female audience. ITV2’s hit reality series The Only Way is Essex will air exclusively on the channel, with a 13th season starting tonight. Other programmes will include US acquisitions including The Real Housewives of… series from Leftfield Entertainment (the US producer acquired by ITV in May this year). ITVBe will show 120 hours of original programming in its first year.
ITV’s second channel launch of the year is a further step in the company’s Transformation Plan, designed to make the business stronger both creatively and financially. In the first half of the year, ITV’s core broadcasting and online division increased revenues 7%, ahead of its own estimates. Less positively, the group’s share of viewing was down 5%, with ITV2 and ITV3 singled out for a disappointing performance.
Despite the weakness of ITV2, the launch of ITVBe suggests that ITV sees an opportunity to increase its share of the advertising market by offering more availability on a new channel which is most likely to perform strongly in daytime. While ITV has not gone so far as to style ITVBe as female-targeted, its programing is likely to appeal most strongly to that demographic. The main female-skewing channels like Sky Living and Lifetime are on pay.
With the Leftfield acquisition ITV claims to be the biggest producer of unscripted US programming, and ITVBe will feature this genre heavily.
The addition of another channel to its portfolio could also boost ITV’s revenues if it is successful in its campaign, launched last month, to secure retransmission fees from UK pay TV platforms. However, there is no guarantee that this campaign will bear fruit. ITVBe’s main function will be to bolster ITV’s share of the ad market. Last year, according to data from ratings agency Barb, the group accounted for 36% of commercial impacts, ahead of Channel 4 with 25% and Sky Sales with 21%.