U.K. broadcaster ITV has claimed to be “More than TV” for over two years, but it’s only now, with the debut of its first dedicated streaming platform, that that mission statement is becoming a reality.
This week’s launch of ITVX has seen the complete overhaul of outdated catch-up service ITV Hub into a sleek and shiny streamer, similar in layout to a Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, and targeting the 35-55 year-old demographic who watch ITV shows but don’t yet have a deep relationship with the brand on-demand. But the makeover isn’t just limited to a new interface: With a fresh streaming profile comes a landmark shift for one of the broadcaster’s most important genres — drama.
Scripted will be a significant focus on the rejigged service, with a host of dramas launching exclusively on the streaming site rather than on the main linear ITV1 channel. The real game-changer, however, is the broadcaster’s newfound ability to experiment outside of the crime programming that ITV dramas have become somewhat synonymous with.
“We felt that there are shows we couldn’t make a hit on the main channel,” Polly Hill, the former BBC drama chief who moved to ITV as head of drama in 2016, tells Variety.
“There are different tones that work really, really well, whether they’re funny, or darker, or just a bit quirky, that aren’t a natural fit for ITV1, but feel like the evolution of mainstream storytelling. We needed to find a platform to be part of that,” Hill continues.
In recent years, ITV may have become most recognizable internationally for entertainment shows such as the behemoth “Love Island,” but the broadcaster’s crime dramas, such as the David Tennant-fronted “Broadchurch” and consent thriller “Liar,” starring Joanne Froggatt and Ioan Gruffudd, have been domestic hits that have travelled widely around the world. It’s that same success, however, that’s also pigeonholed ITV’s drama ambitions into just one specialty area.
Yet, ever since ITVX was first announced, drama commissions from Hill’s team have become noticeably more varied. Among the shows earmarked exclusively for ITVX is the Helena Bonham-Carter-led biopic drama “Nolly,” about a 1980s soap opera icon; “Riches,” centring on a Black Anglo-American family who find themselves at war over their father’s cosmetics empire after his heart attack; “Joan,” a Sophie Turner-fronted drama inspired by a notorious British jewel thief; and “Archie,” about the early years of actor Cary Grant, played by Jason Isaacs.
Is there any sort of brief in what Hill is looking for from the drama community?
The commissioner has, in the past, discussed an inability to take on sci-fi, fantasy or dark horror for ITV1, but on ITVX, it’s a new world entirely. “We don’t have to tick the boxes of all of those genres, but we can now say ‘yes.’ We can find somewhere to put them if it’s a show that we want to make.
“I don’t have a sense of, ‘We’ve got to do a biopic,’ or ‘We aren’t doing procedurals,’” continues Hill. “It’s really about finding a different sort of flavour and style. Sophie [Turner] is great because she can pull in a slightly younger audience, and certainly, it’s wonderful to have a lead that is younger, which isn’t where we often go on the main channel.”
If you want to know just how seriously ITV is taking its streaming play, consider the fact that ITVX exclusives, such as “Nolly,” won’t actually be airing at all on the linear channel. Put simply: everything that airs on linear channel ITV1 will be made available on ITVX, but shows that premiere on ITVX won’t necessary get a second, linear window.
“There might well be a windowing on the main channel after the ITVX [premiere], but where we put a show depends on the sort of content,” says Hill. “We’re commissioning very separately for ITVX premieres and they will feel different.”
As far as whether Hill’s tariffs for drama have risen in line with the wider platform, the executive stays relatively mum, saying only that “it’s expensive to make drama.” ITV is currently only buying U.K. rights to programming, adds Hill, noting that “how [the rest of it is] funded is down to the producer.”