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U.K. Broadcaster ITV Bets Big on New Streamer ITVX With Helena Bonham Carter, David Tennant on Slate

Helena Bonham Carter in 'Nolly'
Youtube/ITVX

Last month, U.K. broadcaster ITV held a star-studded press day ahead of the launch of its new streaming platform, ITVX.

Among the plethora of talent in attendance were Helena Bonham Carter and “Doctor Who” showrunner Russell T. Davies, both there to promote their new scripted show “Nolly” (pictured above), Margarita Levieva, who stars alongside David Tenant in thriller “Litvinenko,” “Riches” showrunner Abby Ajayi and Vicky McClure, who stars in “Without a Sin,” a drama about a woman confronting her daughter’s murderer. Also on hand were top ITVX execs, including ITV content boss Kevin Lygo while earlier that day a select group of journalists and advertisers were invited to see a demo of the service.

This may not have been Netflix or Disney+ territory (the press day wasn’t quite as sparkly as Netflix’s Tudum festival or Disney’s D23), but for a U.K. public service broadcaster, it was a pretty impressive line-up. Which makes sense, since ITV are betting on ITVX to get them through what looks like a looming economic downturn as well as uncertainty in the television and streaming markets more generally, with an explosion of platforms competing for audiences’ attention.

“Riches” David Hindley/Prime Video

The new streaming service, which officially launches today following a soft roll-out, is set to be a combination of its former AVOD incarnation ITV Hub, ad-free incarnation ITV Hub+ and SVOD BritBox, a one-time joint venture between ITV and BBC which is now solely owned and operated by ITV.

Like Hub, ITVX is positioned as a free AVOD service although viewers can upgrade to an ad-free premium tier (currently costing £5.99 [$7.30] per month) which will also include BritBox. (BritBox will not be included with the free service). Given the current economic climate, however, it seems the focus will initially be on the ad-supported offering as opposed to the subscription service. The aim is to have 20 million monthly active users by 2026 and 2.5 million subscriptions.

ITVX is targeting the 35-55 year-old demographic who watch ITV shows but don’t yet have a deep relationship with the brand on-demand. ITV has been clear from the beginning that the platform is not intended to alienate its older viewers, who are committed to linear, but how that will work in practice remains to be seen given the network intends to drop premium dramas such as “Litvinenko” on the service months before a linear broadcast.

And while the former ITV Hub offered 1,500 hours of content, ITVX boasts a staggering 15,000 hours. (Around half the content originates from in-house production and distribution powerhouse ITV Studios, which is rumored to be on the sales block.)

During a press briefing earlier this year ITV claimed the streaming-first strategy would not cannibalize its linear audience. “Word of mouth will really count for a lot,” Lygo said at the time. “We’re going to give them a better chance to watch when they want, how they want.”

As well as premium dramas, ITVX will also offer live TV, 20 FAST channels (which will be something of an experiment for the broadcaster) and a robust film offering of around 350 titles, including the Spider-Man franchise.

Although the streamer is debuting in time for the holidays, internally 2023 is being viewed the real test for the platform, which will offer a much broader selection than the traditional fare from the “Love Island” broadcaster.

For a taste of what ITVX has to offer, read on:

Nolly

Created and written by “Doctor Who” and “It’s a Sin” showrunner Russell T. Davies, this biopic tells the story of 1980s soap opera icon Nora Gordon. At the peak of her career she was the star of “Crossroads” and one of the most famous faces of British TV. Until one day when she was unexpectedly dumped from the show. “It was front page headlines in every single newspaper and it always stayed with me because it was a very mysterious sacking,” Davies recalls. “She was sacked overnight. And I wondered about it for many years why that happened, did all the research and kind of find out why. It’s essentially the story of a queen who loses her crown.”

In the show Gordon, who was known to friends and fans as “Nolly,” is portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, who described Davies’ screenplay as a “gift.” “It’s just so wonderful when you read something, it’s a no brainer, and you don’t have to make decisions in life,” said Bonham Carter. “When you meet a script and it’s like meeting somebody and falling in love.”

Litvinenko

In this thriller, which is based on real events, David Tenant plays Alexander “Sasha” Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who found himself mysteriously poisoned with polonium – allegedly on Putin’s orders – on British soil.

As he lies dying in hospital a murder investigation is launched, spearheaded by his wife Marina, who was determined to bring justice for her husband’s murder. “It has been a true privilege to meet and portray Marina while making the series,” said Margarita Levieva, who plays Marina on-screen. “Sasha’s murder marked the beginning of Putin is ruthless attacks and anyone who believes was an enemy of the Russian state. While this makes the series more urgent than ever, it is also a timeless story of a group of people who stood up to a seemingly powerful bully.”

Riches

“Riches” tells the story of a Black Anglo-American family who find themselves at war over their father’s cosmetics empire after he has a heart attack. Starring Sarah Niles and Deborah Ayorinde, “Riches” has been described as the U.K.’s answer to “Succession.”

“It was important for me in putting Black Brits on screen for that to celebrate the joy, the fun, the immigrant grit,” said showrunner Abby Ajayi. “And to see Black Brits on screen in a way that I don’t often get to experience them in the U.K. So in writing it – and I was writing away from home at that point as well – it was just really important for me to depict these characters living their lives, failing, messing up, but with a sense of purpose and agency about them.”