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ITV's Jeff Henry has been discussing ITV.com, and the company's future plans at the AOP Conference today, outlining the company's plans to make £150m in online revenue by 2010 from Friends Reunited, ITV Local and ITV.com.
ITV plans to make much of this projected revenue from online display, video and local ads, and plans to introduce a new targeted video ad system. The projected figure of £150m is three times what ITV makes at the moment. Can it do it?
Well, the broadcaster launched its broadband TV service summer, and it now has a broad range of recent and archive programming available to view online, but much of this is spoiled by the amount and style of advertising on offer. It's too much...
Users of ITV's site can catch up with the latest episodes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale via the embedded ITV Player, as well as the rest of the TV station's last 30 days of programming (which makes for an impressive array of archive material and live streamed programming).
Unlike the broadband offerings from Channel 4 and the BBC, both of which require software downloads, users of ITV.com can watch videos on the site itself, so long as you have the right software in place (Windows Media 8+, Flash 9, IE 5.5+, and so on).
This is one advantage it has over the competition, as download times can be pretty lengthy on both 4OD and the BBC's iPlayer (where a one hour programme can take as long as two hours to download at times). With streamed video, users can instantly access the content they want.
However, despite this advantage, and regardless of the impressive range of content on offer, the experience of watching ITV programmes online leaves a lot to be desired, for two fundamental reasons:
Too many ads
ITV has to make money from its advertisers, and this is fair enough. I'm happy to be exposed to advertising in return for free, good quality content, but I think ITV has gone too far here.
For example, before watching a 25 minute episode of Coronation Street, I first had to sit through a 40 second pre-roll ad (far too long in my opinion), and a further minute and a half of ads at the halfway stage, with no possibility of skipping.
Look at the ad options on other video sites, and ITV's approach seems out of step. In the case of YouTube, Google has been careful to test out a range of video ad formats, and has opted for 15 second animated overlays, which just take up the bottom 20% of the screen... not too intrusive.
Speaking at the AOP Conference today, Henry said that 89% of viewers of video content on ITV.com had watched a pre-roll ad. No wonder: they haven't a choice.
You can watch programming on a small screen on the site, as per YouTube, open up in full screen, or detach and watch via Windows Media Player, all of which is fine.
However, if you begin watching on the site, then decide halfway through that you'd prefer a detached player, it's tough luck, as you'll have to go right back to the start of the programme, ads and all. I think YouTube works in a similar way, but this is one area that could be improved.
Worse is yet to come. Unlike other online video players, there is no way of forwarding and rewinding parts of a programme, just an option to skip to next / previous chapter, and you'll still have to watch the ads if you rewind, despite having seen them already.
Henry didn't give any precise figures for user numbers of ITV.com, but traffic has apparently risen by 45% over the past year, while the amount of time spent on the site ('dwell time') has doubled.