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Sound and Vision: Is ITVX the grand refresh ITV needs it to be?

OPINION: You might have noticed – indeed many people in the UK have, due to the coverage it has received – that ITV has launched a brand-new streaming service called ITVX.

It’s been in the works for some time, and given the emphasis is shifting from linear broadcasts to online streaming, the previous incarnation of the ITV Hub wasn’t having the impact it should or could have.

Many complained about its streaming quality, and I personally found navigating the interface, whether on TV or an app, confusing. Where were my saved shows? Many times, I couldn’t find them, nor could I find the Continue watching section. Recently, with the World Cup, I’ve found it a pain to watch live broadcasts. Some versions of the app on the platform had it, while others didn’t. It made for a very inconsistent experience compared with, say, BBC’s iPlayer.

But ITVX could change all that. I suspect ITV Hub was hampered by code/infrastructure that didn’t allow it much room to manoeuvre and update itself. Otherwise, why launch a whole new app? A refresh and a rebranding instantly wipe away what came before and attract people’s interest in the way that shiny and new things often do.

At least it ought to, once the app has completed its rollout. At the time of writing, the old ITV Hub hasn’t fully updated on several platforms. While my Fire TV, Android mobile and iOS devices have all updated themselves, I’ve spotted that Hisense’s VIDAA U interface and versions of Android TV (Philips, Sony) are still waiting in line.

But from my experience on the iPad – which I must admit has been brief – it’s looking good. The interface is broken up into more sensible chunks, I don’t have to clamber around to find live broadcasts and recommendations make a little more sense (though that should get better the more you use the app). Although the My List row is still way too far down the home page, at least it’s there and easier to locate than it was on the ITV Hub, where it seemed to change position depending on the app version accessed.

ITVX: A Spy Among Friends
Credit: ITVX

The app is, perhaps, a little too eager for you to convert to the Premium tier – unless you dive into a section, you’ll find that most pages have an “Upgrade to Premium” message hovering somewhere. It also seems to have found a way to package BritBox, the app no one quite seems to know what to do with. Packaged for the US to get more anglophile watchers onboard, it’s still promoted to British viewers, even though iPlayer, ITV and All 4 are more than enough – and free.

At least ITV has been smart in siphoning off popular content like Downton Abbey to the tier, but the question remains whether viewers will sign up for it. If they didn’t buy into BritBox, why would they suddenly jump to this stealth incursion of the app in ITVX?

The bread and butter for any streaming service is having “original” content to watch. The Star Wars/MCU series keep things ticking for Disney+, Netflix has tons of stuff, Prime Video’s made a big investment in The Lord of the Rings and Apple TV+ has some great original programming. Meanwhile, iPlayer might just have had one of its best years in getting series like The Tourist, The Responder, This Is Going to Hurt and Tokyo Vice on the service – all shows that have created a conversation. It’s early days but nothing stands out from ITVX’s line-up.

And more than that, where’s the 4K HLG HDR content? There’s been no announcement regarding 4K support, which in this day and age should be expected for a modern streaming service. The iPlayer has taken these steps in 2022, and paying to watch in HD when you have a 4K TV seems a fruitless exercise; 4K content is a feature that would instantly grab my attention, given the benefits HDR can bring. Also, restricting downloads to the Premium tier feels – well – restrictive.

So to try and answer the question posed in the headline, is ITVX the grand refresh ITV needs? To duck that answer, it’s too early to say, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a good start. If the main objective was to invigorate and freshen things up, then it’s job done. But to reiterate: any video streaming service worth its salt lives or dies by the original content it offers, and in that regard, ITVX currently isn’t feeling very shiny or new.

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