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Marc Webber is the head of content at ITV.com and the man in charge of developing its fast-growing broadband TV service.
Here, we ask him about the progress the broadcaster is making with its catch-up TV and made-for-web content, as well as in developing new revenue streams like product placement.
Where are you at with your online video strategy, in a nutshell?
We’ve had some great stats recently on the amount of people viewing our videos online, as you might have seen in the press. They’ve made us even more determined to pursue a more video-centric strategy.
The video strategy is very simple. It’s about knowing what works well on broadcast and what works well online. We’ve seen the growth of things like Britain’s Got Talent and we’ve also taken some big risks by developing new online content, without the support of the TV arm.
Our key market is football and that will drive a lot of our video strategy. We want to sweat the rights we have from the likes of the FA and UEFA as much as we can, in order to provide an engaging and entertaining experience for our users. The four year deals we have allow us to do things we are likely to gain from financially, such as doing long-form catch-up or producing highlight packages.
What trends are you seeing from audiences in terms of viewing long-form and short-form content?
People have been watching a lot more long-form video online, such as full episodes of Coronation Street. But we also still have a hardcore following for short-form content; the kind of stuff that you snack on during your lunch break.
Football is an area where you will see that two-pronged approach — you will be able to watch the full 90 minutes of a match in catch-up, but we also know that a lot of people will want to watch a three-minute highlight package or that goal or incident. We have made sure the rights we have acquired are flexible enough to allow us to do that. We know we have to deliver on both of those fronts.
What have you learned by developing made-for-online content, such as the Gloryhunter (a broadband TV series where Spencer Austin, a Spurs fan, follows a football team until it loses, then transfers to the victor)?
We’ve invested in online-only content to either support our existing video or to take us off in new directions. This can be a bit of a risk, but we absolutely believe the rewards will be huge.
We’ve been amazed by the success of the Gloryhunter. It was one of the most tear-jerking moments in my career so far, when during one of the Grimsby games, the home crowd were singing ‘there’s only one Gloryhunter’.
It was totally unsupported by TV — no backing or exposure. But it’s a flyer because Spencer’s been taken to the heart of the fans. It’s been a success commercially. We almost covered our costs after two or three weeks. I can give you a ballpark figure for what it has cost — several tens of thousands of pounds, verging on six figures.
When we were developing and commissioning the Gloryhunter, we all sat down and thought about the spin-offs. For example, Spencer is writing a book that will be published at the end of the season. You have to really think through all the different commercial opportunities. You can’t just shove 30-second ads on there and hope for the best.
Will it be picked up by your TV arm?
I do hope it will be the first web-for-TV proposition for ITV. We have a very strong 360 degree commissioning process here, whereby shows that are commissioned work on TV, online and mobile. But TV is the master and online is the son.
I am hoping to prove with the Gloryhunter, and a couple of other things that we are doing, that there can be a reverse-360 process. We can try stuff out on the web and it may lead to something for the broadcast platform. They are different domains, but the concept of the Gloryhunter should live on.
What are you doing to develop product placement as a revenue stream online ?
We have discussed product placement around the Gloryhunter. We obviously can’t do it on broadcast, because of the Ofcom guidelines, but it is an opportunity for us on the web.
We would not want to brand our content, but there are tactical ways of doing it. Could he be ordering a round of Budweiser in a bar? Would that present a challenge if the Gloryhunter made it to broadcast? It is on our radar and there is an opportunity for it.
There have been some criticisms of the usability of the service. What feedback have you had from users and how are you looking to improve the site? Any interesting findings?
We’re driven by video and we’re trying to become more of a video-centric experience online. We’re not quite there yet — we’d readily admit that — but we are doing a heck of a lot more to make the video seen a bit more.
That’s our USP. Things like the Gloryhunter and web-only content around ITV shows are where we will get our biggest audiences.
It’s an evolution and there have been some changes to the user experience since I have been here. We’ve tried to make the site cleaner. We have tried to slim down the amount of stuff that is visible on the site because it is a case of less is more.
Are you looking at content targeting?
We are certainly following that for internal use, but I think it will come. But at the moment the primary thing is to get great content onto the site and make it easy to find.
How willing and able are you to extend your content beyond ITV’s properties? Are you looking at further widget or syndication action?
Yeah. You can go overboard with widget-mania, and we already have Coronation Street and Emmerdale widgets on the site. We are looking at it, in terms of football.
I’m not naive enough to think everyone wakes up in the morning, and thinks they have to come to ITV.com to see what is up there. I know we have to build up relationships outside ITV.com to make people aware of our content, and allow them to have experiences on their own terms.
We are looking at ways to drag some of our content into Facebook pages, and watch certain bits of video within that widget. But quite a few rights deals do not permit third party syndication. It’s hard for us to create a Facebook widget with FA Cup highlights, for example. Those things are beyond our control.
Primarily, our widgets are there to showcase our content and when you click on them, you come through to our site.
We are developing one or two where there is the possibility of us making money by placing pre-roll advertising on that player. But for us at the moment, it is about bringing people to ITV, rather than cutting up the crown jewels as it were.