ITV’s non-fiction needs: Make it mainstream

As the largest commercial broadcaster in the UK, ITV caters toward mainstream audiences. Sasha Breslau, ITV's head of acquired series, spoke with realscreen about what programming does and doesn't work for its viewers and which of ITV's digital channels are best suited for non-fiction programming.
April 5, 2010

As the largest commercial broadcaster in the UK, all of ITV’s channels cater toward mainstream audiences. Sasha Breslau, ITV’s head of acquired series, spoke with realscreen about what does and doesn’t work for its viewers and which of ITV’s digital channels are best suited for non-fiction programming.

In acquiring programming for all of ITV’s channels, which carry the most non-fiction?
[For] ITV2, our young and quite female [skewing] channel, it’s very populist and broad. We have things like America’s Got Talent, Judge Judy and Paris Hilton’s BFF. There’s a couple of chat shows and some reality but mainly it tends to be scripted.
On ITV4 as well we have a few factual series; it’s the channel where we’re most open to that, our male-skewing channel. We didn’t actually end up getting it because Five beat us to it, but we were after Steven Seagal, Lawman. That’s the channel where if something came up that was a factual documentary series and it was quite male, quite action-driven, we’d certainly consider it.

How much is acquired versus original programming?
On ITV2, [it's] somewhere around 60-70% [in favor of acquisitions]. In the evenings it’s more of an even split between commissions and acquisitions, but if you look at the daytime schedule then it probably skews more towards acquisitions. As the channel grows it is trying to invest more in original programming so that will probably come down as time goes by.

What are the biggest challenges in acquiring programs for your channels?
The biggest challenge, I suppose, is trying to find things that feel fresh and new, without being so quirky and experimental that they would be disregarded by our viewers. We want to buy things that they will feel comfortable watching, that they will identify with and that will entertain them, but won’t alienate our core audiences for any of those channels. So it’s [about] finding things that are going to be quite populist fare.

What advice would you give to producers or distributors who might like to bring their non-fiction programming to ITV?
The key thing is I would never want to exclude anything without having a look first or hearing the pitch because I think that’s always worth doing. Even if something doesn’t seem like it would be an immediate fit, it doesn’t mean I would rule it out automatically. Also I would say to try to think about and be familiar with the key demographics for each of the channels and perhaps try to think of something which would, in some way, be recognizable to a UK audience.

Other than Steven Seagal, Lawman, what factual or reality show do you wish you had for one of your channels?
Probably Ice Road Truckers. That would have been great for ITV4, just very male and macho and testosterone-driven.
Something like The Simple Life would have been lovely for ITV2. The Hills would have been ideal too. [It's] very young, quite female, very glossy and aspirational, which is completely on brand for the channel.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.