Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Carolyn McCall is right to focus on data

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast March 14, 2018

ITV chief exec’s speech provided some clues to broadcaster’s future strategy, says Kate Bulkley

On International Women’s Day last week, new ITV boss Carolyn McCall took the podium at the Media & Telecoms 2018 & Beyond conference for her first major speech after returning to the industry.

Clearly, nearly eight years running budget airline EasyJet has taught her how to fight her corner in the digital world and there were some clues about not only how she plans to defend commercial TV, but also how she hopes to find new routes to revenue.

Of course, the digital battle isn’t new for ITV, but it ramped up a lot during the final years of Adam Crozier’s tenure. All legacy media companies are navigating a landscape rife with changing consumption patterns and full of deep-pocketed tech rivals eager to take TV ad money and eyeballs for their own platforms.

The “strategic refresh” promised by McCall still feels a bit ‘work-in-progress”, but there was enough in her speech to give us all an idea of ITV’s future direction, including an ‘a-ha’ moment that priority number one is data.

This was not Crozier’s main focus, but it’s clear that it will be McCall’s – and why not? That’s how budget airlines succeed. They are native-born in the data-rich internet environment.

McCall said better insight into consumers is the key to advanced advertising for ITV. She will want to reap the benefit of the 21 million registered users of ITV Hub and said she plans to invest in the “tech stack” of the on-demand service. She also underlined the importance of moving into addressable advertising for ITV’s linear TV channels.

Getting closer to viewers is a big priority, not just for ITV, but for all legacy broadcasters.

ITV has been slower to create pay-TV and direct-to-consumer models but with TV advertising declining, a purely defensive strategy of bigging up TV ads is no longer enough.

McCall said that embracing data in this way will allow ITV to get “personalisation at scale” for advertisers. ITV Hub, like Channel 4’s All 4, provides advertisers with a TV-safe environment, which should resonate well in an era when ads on Google and Facebook are often hijacked by fake news and hate speech.

“Buying indies has also created a pipeline of content that ITV can exploit, both at home and in overseas markets”

Carolyn McCall

Carolyn McCall

She thinks the TV industry has been underselling its merits and cited The Durrells as an example of how – beyond sport – TV can still gather large audiences desirable to advertisers.

McCall increased EasyJet’s spend on TV advertising by 78%, taking money away from digital. She said this was a big part of her success at the airline. While putting money into TV ads may have helped raise awareness of the airline, McCall also got lucky.

Last year’s demise of Monarch Airlines and Air Berlin, as well as staffing troubles at Ryanair, handed a boost to EasyJet’s fortunes on which McCall was able to capitalise. One broker upgraded EasyJet stock, saying that McCall “bought profit growth” by acquiring the assets of Air Berlin in Germany to bolster EasyJet’s business.

That has a familiar ring to it, recalling former ITV chief Crozier’s snapping up of indies to add new revenue to the broadcaster’s bottom line and changing the balance with advertising revenues. Buying indies has also created a pipeline of content that ITV can exploit, both at home and in overseas markets.

McCall left a focus on content at the bottom of her list of priorities; not because she doesn’t think it’s important so much as because she thinks the current ITV Studios strategy is working.

To borrow language from her former industry, McCall is still in take-off mode but with a different pilot at the controls of ITV, there is already a change of tone. She seems to see ITV as a value system, not simply a share price. In her speech, she underlined ITV’s backing of anti-obesity initiative The Daily Mile and to explain how TV has the power “to help bring about societal shifts”.

There’s a lot to do and ITV is still considered in some quarters a ripe target in the consolidation mania happening across the media landscape. Time will tell how she fares – but so far, so good. ­

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