A round of applause please for ITV, the ailing broadcast giant has finally awoken to the importance of the current need for a quality online offering. ITV has announced it is teaming up with Anneilies van den Belt, Internet guru who spruced up the Times and Telegraph websites.
To avoid an epic attack on the Beeb's internationally established currents affairs based news content, Ms van den Belt will focus on light bite showbiz entertainment, complementing its broadcast offerings, and capturing the oh-so lucrative 16-35 year-old advertising demographic.
The new offering will also aim to integrate the somewhat misplaced purchase of Friends Reunited into the ITV multi-platform horizon. Bought in late 2005 for between £120-175million the site, with various spin-offs (genes, dating), the site has fallen behind the surging user created content sites such as MySpace and Facebook, even though it has benefited from a range of advertising benefits from the ITV (TV and online). The website itself is going to have £7million campaign to try and change the tide of decline. But in the online world of viral popularisation will the campaign provide value for money? Or perhaps the ageing target of the site will be more receptive to traditional marketing?
Another point raising eyebrows is the ITV's confidence in biting the bullet for paid VoD content. Ms van den Belt expressed scepticism at previous attempts by other broadcasters to charge for users to view its back-catalogue at their whim, which suggests that the 30-day catch-up service and 1,000 hours of archive to be offered by ITV.com will be supported by advertising. Unlike Channel 4, the soap and drama based archive of the ITV has very little ongoing demand in the more lucrative DVD market whereas Channel 4's archive is centred much around comedy series such as Father Ted and Peep Show where it is still reaping the rewards. Its current VoD service, 4play is pay-per-view, avoiding the loss in revenue.
The Beeb has proven how profitable online strategies could be after it was quoted it could make over £100million a year if it opened the gates for advertising on its international site alone. But with the National papers, Magazines and TV Broadcasters all trying to introduce rich online offerings with user comment, podcasting, video streaming and lots more to come on top of online only services, is there not going to come a point they all start treading on each others toes, spreading users so thinly that the real monetary value. I think particularly to the Johnny Come Latelys, is online going to plug the leek of haemorrhaging print circulations and TV-ratings? If it is going to, for both the established and new providers, originality, quality and usability must be at the core.