How do you make news pay?
By Kate Bulkley
For Broadcast April 7, 2011
ITN’s content repackaging plan may be the answer, says Kate Bulkley.
With audiences fragmenting to Facebook, games consoles and tablets, one of the best currencies TV has is live events. That means everything from Man United vs Chelsea to The X Factor and BBC2’s Springwatch.
And, of course, there is live news. Major 2011 stories already include the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, rebellion in Libya and ongoing protests in the Middle East. And with the upcoming royal nuptials, news has the inside track on live at the minute.
How you source news may be changing - the first tsunami pictures were almost entirely from citizens with personal cameras - but there is still no replacement for boots on the ground. The big stories have sent viewers flocking to rolling news channels and the major bulletins but, as ever, news-gathering is expensive. So how can news producers turn it from being a cash drain into a profit centre?
ITN Productions may have a portion of the answer. This wholly trusted British news brand is the broadcast equivalent of the boy scout movement - “if you’ve got a bob, we’ll do the job”. But the new mantra at Grey’s Inn Road is about repackaging what is already being shot to make considerably more money.
ITN produces news for other people, notably ITV and Channel 4, and used to for Channel 5 (and it may get a chance to do that again). It also makes specific programmes such as Tonight. But shouldn’t there be more to life than fulfilling other TV channels’ needs?
Down at MipTV in Cannes this week, ITN Productions is attempting to prove that live news production is an awakening monster when it comes to new programming possibilities. A relatively new management team has things such as ITN News on YouTube at the top of its agenda, along with making and selling an increasing number of fast-turnaround, news feature programmes to broadcasters outside of the UK.
ITN Productions already supplies news to Google, Orange, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph websites, so the idea is to create a kind of news indie.
ITN is an old brand in the new world of digital media and, in Cannes, it wants to show that it can also be international. There is a development deal with Mercury Media to help build an international version of The Movie Show, which is already in production for ITV2, and a deal with Cineflix International to sell finished shows such as Tsunami: British Search And Rescue (pictured), originally commissioned for C5. “It’s about exploring the appetite for this type of content,” says Chris Shaw, the ex-C5 news director and most recent addition to the ITN Productions team. “Any upside is real upside, because we are taking content and repackaging it. I am trying to coin the phrase that we are both quick and classy.”
It makes sense when you send 30 people to Japan for ITN News, Tonight and Channel 4, but only a tiny amount of footage sees the light of day for those programmes. There is likely a place for more well-packaged news features from brands such as ITN, because the internet noise is so loud that one can hope that people will want information they can trust.
And for broadcasters, timely and hot-off-the-presses content helps their channels stand out. It may not be The X Factor, but it could be the next best thing.