Netflix And Digital Natives Have Bad News For ITV

The news just doesn't get any better for traditional television's outlook for 2019. Even though Netflix's latest figures didn't woo Wall Street, the harsh reality is that an analyst report warned that streaming has yet to have its biggest impact, and ITV shares immediately sank 6%.

This was not the way the week was supposed to pan out for Britain's first and leading commercial terrestrial channel. This was the week ITV announced it will be spending an extra GBP10m on marketing itself this year in a bid to change perceptions and convince viewers that it can surprise them. A pair of new ads were also unveiled that focus on the characters the channel brings us. 

Nonetheless, a report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch was all it took yesterday to give investors the jitters. The note laid out an argument that traditional television had yet to see the biggest impact of streaming. Younger generations are watching less traditional television as they head off to the streamers and video sites. By 2020, the argument goes, half of the UK's workforce will be "digital natives," and they will also watch less tv than the generation that came before them.

We have already seen widespread predictions that television revenue will dip this year, and so a further warning that if you think Netflix is having an impact you haven't seen anything yet  was all that was needed to give ITV a very bad day on the stock exchange. 

The channel's Chief Executive, Carolyn McCall, has been leading calls for the BBC and Channel 4 to join with ITV on a joint streaming service, similar to BritBox, which ITV and the BBC operate in the US but not in the UK. The channels had attempted to come together a dozen years ago, but the joint digital hub plans were ditched as they hit red tape and concerns over the move possibly being anti-competitive. 

That has all changed now as the power of Netflix and Amazon means the British broadcasters feel they now need to pool content under a single, convenient roof if they are to stand a chance of competing. 

It has to be remembered that ITV's 6% share dip happened against a backdrop of Netflix also dipping 3%. The Times has put this down to Wall Street concern over the streamer's perceived high spending, although the figures showed good growth and were in line with expectations.

If a note about Netflix's power can stun ITV on a day when the streamer isn't exactly on the front foot, it makes you realise how correct the analysts' summary could well be. The channel had also just put up subscription rates in the US and been on the receiving end of some research saying that 57% of Brits would ditch the channel if it ever brought in ads.

Mediatel started off the year with the observation that although it is has been said of other years, 2019 could actually be the year when ITV is bought. With a share price around the lowest it has been in years and a weak pound, the feeling is conditions are ripe for a takeover.

Whether or not this oft-noted prediction takes place, the year ahead is certainly shaping up to be a turbulent one for the UK terrestrial, commercial channels -- most notably for ITV.

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