LONDON – While the world was in lockdown, Rhys McLachlan was innovating. Now the UK’s leading commercial broadcaster can see a brighter future.

Over the last year, the advanced advertising director at ITV was pushing forward the legacy company’s new-wave ad targeting offering.

Now, as economies pick back up, ITV is expecting to post its highest-ever advertising revenue – thanks partly to a bump from VOD ads sold by platforms that McLachlan’s team have deployed in just the last 12 months.

Planet V-powered programmatic

In its Q3 trading statement, ITV, the UK’s leading ad-funded broadcaster, reported total ad revenue up 30% in the nine months to September 30, driven partly by a 54% growth in AVOD revenue.

That is thanks largely to ITV’s introduction of Planet V, a platform for selling ads programmatically across ITV’s own-brand, cross-platform VOD player, ITV Hub.

Planet V was effectively introduced in 2019, when ITV decided to build its own tech stack based on Amobee infrastructure. But it went fully live with ad buyers in October 2020. Since then, the flood gates have opened.

Agency adoption

“That (revenue) performance itself has been underpinned, I believe, by the role of Planet V and the extraordinary work that the team has done to establish Planet V and normalise Planet V as the go-to programmatic platform and workflow for AVOD in the market,” McLachlan tells Beet.TV editorial advisor Jon Watts in this video interview.

“We have trained, certified and on-boarded over 900 users, many of which are monthly active users, which have a really high penetration in terms of the universe of AVOD buyers.

“Those buyers are across over 200 buying points. We’ve covered all the major agency holding groups, the larger independents, the regional agencies and the in-house teams. They have built in excess of 5,000 campaigns across 900 advertisers.”

Self-service switches on

After historically lagging in digital innovation, ITV’s programmatic moves over the last couple of years have put the broadcaster in a positive position.

“In any given month, 90% of ITV’s inventory is managed through Planet V,” McLachlan says.

“At this point, we now have three of the major agency holding companies running 100% self-service.

“Last month, 75% of all orders placed with ITV for VOD bookings were through the self-service portal.”

ITV Hub itself was redesigned this year, and reported a 22% increase in monthly active users to 9.6 million.

Race to revenue

That is impressive growth for a broadcaster that effectively switched on the programmatic VOD tap a mere 12 months ago, and which historically struggled to embrace such opportunities.

Until the arrival of programmatic, ITV’s big digital monetization bets were an optimistic leaning-in to paid, ad-free consumption through loss-making BritBox JV and its own ITV Hub+ – a tough sell to its mid-market demographic of viewers more used to ad-supported linear TV.

“Bear in mind that we only launched it to the market in October of 2020,” McLachlan says. “This is a tremendous journey given where we’ve been. Twelve months ago, ITV had zero programmatic presence in the UK market.

“Based on our market insights today, we own and operate the second largest programmatic video platform in the UK.”

The trajectory will give comfort to those in the UK creative industries who see the sustenance of broadcasters like ITV as critical against the perceived threat from US SVOD services.

2022 and beyond

So, what comes next for the broadcaster keen to capitalize on Planet V and the streaming habit solidified by consumers during lockdown?

McLachlan says ITV plans to programmatically-enable more linear play-out inventory in ITV Hub live streams, adding to its core VOD capability.

After a recent product update, it is now fielding interest from drinks brands, DIY brands, hay fever remedy brands and others keen to buy ad campaigns that can dynamically start and stop based on weather forecast data supplied to Planet V by Weatherbit.

After a partnership with Cablato, it is prototyping custom text overlays within ad creative.

“The solution went live (in November) with the Army Reserves being our pilot client.,” McLachlan says. “They are running 112 iterations on end frames that are day of week-specific and designed to drive footfall to the local recruitment office for the army here in the UK.”

Coming together

Although peers Channel 4 and Sky have taken a different approach to ITV in the programmatic evolution, Rhys McLachlan says the UK industry is coming together to tackle measurement challenges.

Specifically, they will adopt the CFlight currency introduced to the market by Sky following its acquisition by Comcast.

“What’s really exciting is about how we have developed the capacity to collaborate,” McLachlan says. “Working on agreeing standards and the methodology to get CFlight live is a huge, it’s a monumental task.

“I think it’ll be game changing for the industry here in the UK – finally, having a definitive methodology to establish a de-duplicated reach of viewing between linear and digital catch up content and streaming content is what the market’s been clamouring for some time.”