Candyspace recently caught up with Stu Jones, Head of Product for ITV Hub and Hub+
With record audiences following England’s march to the final of the Euros and a new series of Love Island it’s been a busy summer so far for ITV. But the media company is operating in an environment where TV viewing habits are changing at an accelerated pace, with competition for attention coming in from all angles.
As part of our webinar looking at how traditional businesses can keep pace with the disruptors, Candyspace managing director Matt Simpson spoke to Stu Jones, Head of Product for ITV Hub and Hub+ about how ITV are adapting to the rapid pace of change in their sector.
Watch the full interview below, or read on for edited highlights.
Matt: Traditional television viewing has clearly been disrupted by the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. How are ITV adapting to that disruption?
Stu: It's so easy to look at what Netflix is doing and think we need to emulate their success. They've got a different business model to us, as have Amazon and Disney Plus. They don't have the ad market to contend with as well.
If we ask our customers the biggest issue they face, they say adverts. So it's quite difficult for us to really alleviate that customer pain point. We have done with the likes of Hub+ – that's why that exists at £3.99 a month to watch ad free ITV content.
We’re looking at innovation in spaces around personalising advertising and using data to try and drive the experience of ads in the same way that we are trying to drive the experience of content. So whilst we look at Netflix as disruptors in the video on demand space, we’re also looking at who are disruptors in the ad space and how we can try and learn from them as well.
Matt: How are the product teams on ITV Hub able to operate with the speed and agility needed to help keep ahead of competitors?
Stu: It’s always a question about resourcing and trying to use the resource in the most intelligent way you can. What’s often a challenge for us is we often have to try and resolve issues on the fly – because it's a very complicated world, video on demand. The customer experience is at the very last mile of a very long road. The content is being streamed all over the world, we're trying to capture that stream, we're trying to encode it – this is all before we get to the customer play out.
So what we're trying to do as a product team is make sure that we focus on two separate things: one on the customer experience, making sure that we have the right attention to detail on that, and the other on the platform itself. And by decoupling them we're able to focus on what's important, and make sure we have subject matter expertise on those areas.
Matt: How do the Hub product teams work within the structures of a long-standing business like ITV?
Stu: Yeah, it's interesting. I think there's certain companies in the world right now that are blessed with not having to go through a transformation. The acceleration of companies like Netflix have really come from not being tied into a traditional system. For us, we've got to try and balance between subject matter experts who understand the linear world of television and find that common language – to try and make sure we are trying to strive for the same thing. That's the real key for me.
Matt: How do you evolve the ITV Hub so it’s in line with your understanding of customers’ desires and behaviours?
Stu: We’re blessed with really great customer insight. I've not worked anywhere before where we've actually physically spent a huge amount of time gathering customer feedback. I'm sure we're all familiar with the adage that customers will say what they do but they actually do something quite different on the platform itself. And so whilst we're blessed with that customer insight at a kind of quantifiable level, what we don't necessarily have is some of the data points that match back to what customers are saying that they do as well.
So we've been speaking to the likes of Mixpanel and trying to better understand our customers. We are going through a huge digital transformation piece within data as well at the moment. If you do use the right data, and then you marry that up to the customer experience, what you've then got is the complete picture.
So I'd say for us at the moment we're in transition of having really great customer insights and trying to get to the point of also having really great data points. And we do have them, but they don't necessarily align at the moment and we need to try and find ways that we can join the dots together.
Matt: Are you reimagining the way ITV connects with audiences in any way?
Stu: The challenge is that our competitors are galloping off in a direction that's not been tethered to linear television so I think it would be a mistake for us to just look at the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus and say, well let's emulate their successes, let's see what they've done and do that as well.
What we have to do is look to some of the other disruptors in the marketplace. The likes of Tik Tok is a really good example of a video platform that's commanded a huge amount of attention from a key demographic, but it offers something entirely different, and offers user-created short form content. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus don't necessarily do that.
So is there something in that to say, if the demographic who are watching Love Island are the same demographic consuming very short form content very rapidly for potentially hours on end. How can we then try and see if there's something that matches up those two models and can the ITV Hub be a centralised place for something like that?
I wouldn't ever suggest that we have a Tik Tok-esque service, but short-form rapid content might be something that we can do, consumer-generated content could be something that we could do. So they’re the areas I think it’s important we don’t discredit just because Netflix or Amazon Prime or Disney aren’t doing them as well.
Matt: Is there anything you think you can learn from the disruptors – not necessarily in terms of the services or business models but, for example, in the ways of working?
Stu: Yes. Fail fast is the key mantra. I think there's that paradigm shift of trying to understand that failure isn't necessarily a terrible place to be. For example, if we lost a stream of ITV Hub, that's a catastrophic failure and we've lost huge amounts of ad revenue – it's very hard to experiment in that place. But I think you've got to try and find those opportunities – it's trying to find the safety net and make sure that safety net is in place to do that rapid experimentation and testing as well.
Matt: Have you got any predictions about the future of TV?
Stu: You know, I'm just over 40 now so I've been consuming television myself for pretty much my entire life. I've got two young children, and our behaviours as a family have massively changed. My kids watch lots of Netflix, they watch lots of YouTube. We subscribe to both of those services so they don't watch any adverts at all, so they don't even know what an advert necessarily is. Come Christmas when you ask what they want they’ve got no idea because they’re not influenced by the ad market. I can only see an increase in subscription services coming in.
I think we're in a very fragmented market at the moment in TV. What really is helpful for people is aggregation of content – understanding where content can be found. Apple TV has given rise to basically just searching for a title, you play that title and you may not even know where the source of that title is coming from. It's only going to get more fragmented and so I think the aggregation is going to become even more important to people to find out what they want to watch.