DTVE Interview: Mark Ison, ITV director of engineering

In December 2022 UK broadcaster ITV debuted its new integrated AVOD and SVOD streaming service ITVX , replacing its free streaming service ITV Hub. ITVX is the first streaming service in the UK to offer viewers access free content with ads and ad-free paid subscription.

Mark Ison, ITV director of engineering, says that in making the transition to ITVX, the broadcaster reengineered its live distribution pipe that is designed to scale for large concurrent audiences for mass-watched TV events such as the World Cup or reality hit series Love Island.

The launch of the revamped streaming service came off the back of ITV’s coverage of the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament, during which ITV Hub experienced extreme lagging for over an hour at some points.

“The Euros did not show the ITV hub in the best light,” says Ison. “Our focus with the launch with ITVX was ensuring that it didn’t happen again.”

Designing the new platform, ITV has worked in partnership with a number of tech outfits, including Fastly, Candyspace, Accedo and Conviva.

It has since integrated a new CDN, developed a new user interface with new branding and additional personalisation features on the platform.

Ison says: “We’re starting to put genuine live content onto those FAST channels on ITVX which seems to be driving growth, and to oversee that the ITVX tech team have developed technology, some in partnership, but a lot of it was brand new stuff created with our engineering team.”


The ITVX tech exec pointed to popular ITVX original titles such as A Spy Among Friends and Litvinenko for boosting engagement on the platform. ITVX has also launched the initiative called ‘Live Events’ to attract wider audiences with its growing portfolio of sport rights acquisitions. ITV has recently picked up the rights to SailGP the FA Community Shield, and Under 20s Rugby, which sits among its more extensive coverage of sport events such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

Part of ITVX’s growth is due to what Ison describes as “single reach moments”, when programming attracts a large audience at the time it is being broadcasted.

Love Island and the FIFA Women’s World Cup are key examples, along with the return of Big Brother and the Rugby World Cup 2023 expected to debut on ITV’s linear networks and ITVX later this year.

“People come for the content, but ultimately the product is the delivery of that content,” says Ison. “It isn’t the product that sits around it or the price point. It all comes down to making sure that we’re getting the right content on the right cadence.”

ITVX has also recently grown its distribution, with live and FAST channels available within ITVX on LG devices via Freeview Play. According to the PSB, it surpassed the one billion streams milestone four months after the service launched. Chief executive officer of ITV Carolyn McCall recently reported ITVX streaming hours were up to 737 million, as were monthly active users at 12.5 million.

Ison says, “We sometimes only get one opportunity in a year to convince people to stick around, so we have to make sure that is a great video and navigation experience for viewers.”

Streaming quality

Ison notes the importance of key factors to deliver a high-quality streaming experience such as preventing buffering and slow start-up times and ensuring picture quality can reach the highest available bit rate promptly.

“There’s been a lot of push to focus on the quality of our video streams. It was already a focus anyway, but we had a lot of constructive feedback from internal sources mostly, and naturally, there has always been plenty of Twitter feedback, which we have taken on board and acted upon where it is appropriate to do so.”

However, challenges arise when transmitting video content onto a wide diverse range of devices where it “becomes an engineering undertaking” task to ensure the quality of streaming is preserved across each screen.

Ison says: “We are working on the navigation journeys, making sure that the metadata is all correct and in the right place, content is easy to find, and animations are fluid on screen devices.”

Eight months since ITVX’s launch, Ison says that the next step for the broadcaster is its plan to shift its viewers over to an IP TV distribution model in the near future, which he says will likely be a “HS2-size” challenge for the company.

“We’re working on the assumption that we will need an IP distribution system to scale to whatever it is, 30 million concurrent viewers or more,” he says.

“That is a massive challenge not just for us, but the industry as a whole, including the broadband network providers and all the partners in between. So our preparation really is starting to look at that and we’ve been doing that probably for a couple of years,” he explains. “It’s going to take a lot of investment and you’ve got to start early to reap the rewards.”

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