In my first CST blog, over 10 years ago now, I confessed that I was a late adopter of television and its technologies. Since then, I have got used to BBC iplayer and catch-up services but, although I have enjoyed reading the analysis of the growing dominance of Netflix, the arrival of Disney+ and the challenge of Paramount + (Catalina Iordache reviews two more books on these topics in the forthcoming issue (18.2) of the journal), I remained resistant to the lure of SVODs. This of course meant that I was ‘out’ of many conversations about the newest US series but that I was up to date with my main interest, British drama, and had watched the under-rated DI Ray (ITV, 2022) as well as the deservedly praised Happy Valley (BBC, 2014-23).
But now I find I am in a good position to note the arrival of ITVX (figure 1) which has just turned up, without me having to do very much, and seems to be the VOD aimed at late adopters. For readers outside the UK, ITV is the commercial arm of the established PSB set up. It has gone through various permutations since it first introduced British audiences to television with advertisements back in 1955. It was generally thought that the huge expansion of television competition and the decline in television advertising would challenge the staid and homely ITV. But it would seem that ITV is not backing down and indeed Carolyn McCall, ITV Chief Executive, recently announced, in a press release, external revenue growth of 8% for 2022, ‘driven by double digit growth in ITV Studios and Media & Entertainment digital revenues’. Part of this success was put down to the launch of ITV’s own VOD platform: ‘The successful execution and delivery of ITVX in Q4 was a major digital milestone. The platform has received a very positive reception from viewers and advertisers alike, with its newly expanded range of original content and a superior user experience engaging more viewers, and lighter viewers, and encouraging them to spend more time with ITV’.
This might seem a bit optimistic since ITVX was only launched on all platforms on 8th December 2022 (figure 2). Nevertheless, its ambition has been largely welcomed. UK TV Guide What to Watch reported that ‘ ITVX will feature 35 flagship shows, 250+ films and 200+ series available at launch, plus 150+ hours of true crime programmes including exclusives’. There is supposed to be new original programming every week and ‘more than 10,000 hours’ of content.
There are signs, however, that ITV might seek to manoeuvre us late adopters into an SVOD. For £5.99 monthly or £59.99 annually, you can subscribe to the ad-free ITVX Premium. (figure 3) The Premium service also lets you download to your phone and other devices, gives access to the entire Britbox library and according to What to Watch ‘Some of the standard ITVX library is only available to Premium subscribers too, with ITV stating that over 6,000 hours of video are only for paying users. By the sounds of it, many ITVX exclusives will be added to Premium instead of the standard tier’. We shall see.
But at this point, what might ITVX offer to lure those who already subscribing to other VODs? If you like watching films on television, then check out Roy Stafford’s account of the film offer (200 films currently available) on his blog (itpworld). You can check online if dramas you are interested in researching are now on the platform (Footballers’ Wives, anyone?) So, I will just focus on some of the new series now available which would be worth the time of anyone interested in TV drama.
Nolly (2023) I suspect that this three part series by Russell T Davies was an introduction to ITVX for many of us. A wonderful tribute to a classic British soap, the much-mocked Crossroads, with Helena Bonham Carter in diva-mode as the sacked star, Noele Gordon. Dorothy Hobson, author of the TV Studies classic Crossroads: Drama of a Soap Opera, tweeted ‘You will love #Nolly. Well done to everyone at #QuayStreetProductions. You have made high quality popular drama which shines in every department’.
Maternal (2023) My favourite so far (figure 4). A medical drama written by Jacqui Honess-Martin about three female medics returning to work from maternity leave which has all the soap elements you might expect. The three women, played by Lara Pulver, Parminder Nagra and Lisa McGrillis, face their difficulties with stretched patience and rapidly diminishing confidence but also find humour in the preposterous situations they are put into. Cathy Tyson makes an appearance in episode 4 and I particularly enjoyed the dark plotting which meant that the death of a husband was ‘rewarded’ with promotion for his wife.
A Spy Among Friends (2022) was heavily trailed before the launch as if it were the respectable side of drama: a six-part cold war thriller starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce which traced out the complications of the defection of Kim Philby to the Soviet Union in 1963. Soberly done with some nice period work and a rather splendid scene in episode 4 when Anthony Blunt is tracked down in a reception at Buckingham Palace.
Riches (2022, released in the US on Amazon Prime) (figure 5) is another six parter set in London and deals with the beauty business. The family firm of ‘Flair and Glory’ provide glamour and style for its Black customers. Set up by the patriarchal head of the Richards family, the business is riven when he dies (a sadly brief appearance by Hugh Quarshie) and his ex-wives and children flamboyantly vie to take over the firm. Writer Abby Ajayi says that “Riches is a love letter to Black London and it has been thrilling to create the Richards’ family and celebrate their opulence, their ambition and their immigrant grit’ (Stylist). Some roots in Dynasty and Dallas but it is the only TV show I know which has a CEO who quotes Audre Lorde; ‘For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ Nina (Deborah Ayorinde) tells her sister, as she successfully seeks to win her vote in the Board Room.
And we can look forward to Big Brother (1999-present), the subject of so much analysis in TV scholarship and the case study in many a 101 course. ITV has officially confirmed that it’s bringing the series back with coverage split between ITV2 and ITVX. In pursuit of younger viewers, of course, not late adopters.
Christine Geraghty is Honorary Professorial Fellow at University of Glasgow. Her publications on television include a contribution to the 1981 BFI monograph on Coronation Street; Women and Soap Opera (Polity, 1991) and My Beautiful Laundrette (IB Tauris, 2004). Her BFI TV Classic on Bleak House was published in 2012 and she has continued to make a major contribution to Adaptation Studies. Most recently, she has published an essay on BAME casting in the 2010s in the journal, Adaptation and she is currently working on Small Axe in relation to its status as film and television. She is Book Reviews editor for Critical Studies in Television.