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Omar Oakes 

Week in Media: ITV's night of polyadmory and edgy content

Week in Media: ITV's night of polyadmory and edgy content

Week in MediaITV's annual bash for advertisers was packed with memorable content – including some striking off-the-cuff moments – as it tries to widen access to a crowded TV market, writes the editor.

ITV could not have picked a better time than this week to launch its first in-person Palooza event.

The TV market has been booming for a year now thanks to a sustained surge in advertiser demand, and as Mediatel News reports this week, this is set to continue well into next year. So much as that the typically cheaper months of January and February are forecast to be much more expensive than usual.

So you’d forgive the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster for being particular splashy and bullish during its glitzy 90-minute upfronts presentation for advertisers and media agencies at Royal Festival Hall in London.

While the opportunity to rub shoulders and take selfies with celebs at the Palooza after party is a draw for many, I could almost hear executives rubbing their hands with delight at the prospect of 2022 being even more lucrative than what is already forecast to be a record year in 2021.

Multiple choices

The theme was “Better Together”, which as deputy MD for commercial Simon Daglish would later explain, is all about one programme having multiple advertising partners.

Polyadmory, if you will.

M&S Food and its agency Mindshare were name-checked as having running successful campaigns across different types of content. Daytime shows This Morning and Loose Women were praised for enabling “multiple brands partnered with the different editorial strands within the same show.”

This is important because there is only so much peak-time and so many ratings hits that ITV can rely on in our quickly fragmenting media landscape. We now live in a world where, as of today, BARB has started reporting audiences for streaming services and tells us that one-third of people in the UK are streaming ad-free Netflix every week.

But there’s only one place in the UK to advertise on TV when it comes to the World Cup, the world’s most popular international sporting competition, which for the first time is being scheduled in the run-up to Christmas.

It’s hard to overstate how gargantuan the ad market could be this time next year, when Christmas advertising is coinciding with World Cup advertising. The England football team, it also turns out, has become a serious contender to win the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.

In an online seminar attended by Mediatel News last week, Zenith chief strategy officer Richard Kirk said this could be the decade's "biggest set piece opportunity for advertising and media planning."

So it was notable to see Kelly Williams, the MD for commercial, making a plea at Palooza for advertisers to consider “collaborating” with other brands around the World Cup in order to “be more than the sum of their parts”.

Unlike for Euro 2020, ITV is available to sell additional broadcast sponsorships. Williams made it clear that, “although we will happily work with one overall sponsor, if we can, we’d love to create a more affordable, more accessible way to partner with this global event.”

Innovation in ad products, familiarity in content

Having had next to zero programmatic presence a year ago, the company can now boast it is “the second largest programmatic video platform in the UK,” Williams added.

The programmatic video ad-buying platform Planet V is now used by over 250 agency buying points and ITV has now booked more than 5,000 campaigns across 900 advertisers,” he added, with over 90% of ITV’s digital inventory now booked through the platform each month.

Williams was also keen to show off ITV Commercial's deepening bench strength. As reported earlier this week, the broadcaster has launched ITV Adlabs, a central point for advertisers and agency to work on innovation projects across three key areas: new digital products, digital partnerships and strategic insight.

Director of advanced advertising Rhys McLachlan’s team has begun to test dynamically-served ad creative and, as Williams exclaimed, “[ITV] can now change the end frames of your ads in real time!”

Meanwhile, Kate Waters’ client strategy and planning team is building a share of voice tool in which advertisers can use a dashboard that reports their TV share of voice relative to their competitors.

But it was director of television Kevin Lygo who delivered the most memorable portion of the evening, as he teased a number of new drama and entertainment programmes due to launch in the new year.

Content and the ability to pull in audiences, particularly in Q1 when audiences tend to be lower, is going to be especially concerning for advertisers who are set to pay as much 30% higher cost-per-thousands in the normally cheaper winter months.

There is a new game show fronted by Ant & Dec, Limitless, in which (it is claimed) there is a never-ending ladder of ever-increasing prize money for contestants who keep getting the answers right.

ITV is unafraid to keep dipping into the well of talent shows with judges – next year the new hope is Starstruck – a semi-rehash of Stars in Their Eyes in which contestants dress up as Lady Gaga or Elton John and have to impress Adam Lambert and, er, Sheridan Smith by “working as a team”.

There was a wave of impressed “oohs” reverberating around the hall when Lygo showed a trailer for Trigger Point, a Line of Duty-style procedural police thriller also created by Jed Mercurio and starring Vicky McClure.

Piers 'Voldemort' Morgan is gone and that's that

Perhaps this supreme confidence in ITV’s content slate made Lygo just a touch too relaxed. There were times when the autocue (clearly visible from my vantage point) gave Lygo the instruction to “ad lib". Or perhaps it was "ad glib", given what he chose to riff about.

Lygo (pictured on stage, above) referred to the Palooza after party as a “super spreader event” and joked that “at least one of you is going to get it”, given that no one in the audience appeared to be wearing a mask.

I suddenly remembered that no one had actually bothered to check whether I or my colleague had been vaccinated against Covid-19 when we entered the venue. ITV stated proof of vaccination or negative test was a condition of entry, but I could have been red-hot with disease and still gotten in to make Lygo’s joke a reality. Oh well.

There was also time for Lygo to give ex-Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan his own special send-off after the former Daily Mirror editor spectacularly stormed off the show in April and never returned.

Referring to Morgan as “Voldemort”, Lygo remarked: “He’s not here is he? Of course he’s not here, he fucking walked off, didn’t he?”

He went on: “No, we miss Piers [shakes head as if to say ‘not really’, prompting audience laughter]… when it happened, I went down just to see him and I was like ‘Piers, what the fuck are you doing?’ And he said ‘all I wanted to do was beat the BBC in ratings and I’ve done it now on my last day of the show.

“I did say: ‘the thing is, technically, it’s when you walked off that the ratings went up, so actually it was Susanna [Reid], Alex [Beresford] and Charlotte [Hawkins] that got the big ratings. But he’s gone [gives the ‘wanker’ hand gesture] and that’s that.”

There was also an anecdote about Richard Madeley and car crashes, but you get the idea.

Once again Lygo proved he is a consummate entertainer, not just a shrewd head of programming, and it was telling that his on-stage material was exponentially more edgy than ITV’s family-friendly primetime fare. But that, as they say, is showbusiness.

As today's BARB report reminds us, TV is at the heart of evening entertainment and is where most people still watch long-form professionally-produced content, with linear making up the majority of watching time.

And CEO Carolyn McCall (pictured, above) was undeniably correct when she told Palooza: "When I look back at the last four years I can honestly say we are a much transformed business. We are now a digitally-led media and entertainment company continually innovating and investing in data, analytics, technology and start-up businesses."

But TV companies will have to work harder than ever in the coming years to sell TV, given the looming threat of how video-sharing services like TikTok and Twitch are much more watched on other devices. Younger people, full of energy and native to social networks, are perfectly content to spend an obscene amount of time per day scrolling through video feeds on small-screen smartphones.

So even though ITV is set to enjoy an unprecedented and bumper year in 2022, competition will continue to steadily intensify from all different types of VOD platforms, many of whom are backed by US Big Tech.

At least, on this week's evidence, ITV has the energy and personality to put its best foot forward.

omar.oakes@mediatel.co.uk

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