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September 21, 2022updated 26 Jan 2023 1:53pm

ITN chief executive Rachel Corp urges government to help ‘level up’ relationship between platforms and publishers

By Bron Maher and Charlotte Tobitt

New ITN chief executive Rachel Corp has used her first speech in the role to urge government to “properly address” the sustainability of journalism in the UK.

Speaking at Press Gazette’s inaugural Future of Media Technology conference, former ITV News editor Corp described the Australian News Media Bargaining Code as a “proven model” for funding news.

She spoke of the need for the relationship between platforms and publishers to be levelled up, and said the news industry is frustrated by the slow progress of UK regulation in this area.

“Many of us were encouraged by proposals for a Digital Markets Unit outlined in the Furman report in early 2019,” she said.

“But our concerns about the lack of legislation to give it teeth have escalated to the point where a broad group of news brands, broadcasters, magazine and book publishers, as well as consumer bodies, have joined forces to lobby for its speedy introduction.  

“Of course, in the meantime, we continue to innovate to allow audiences to receive news in a variety of different ways on different platforms, despite digital revenues remaining tiny at present.”

Corp also hinted at ITN’s plans for the near future, describing an “upcoming rebrand” and lauding streaming service ITVX for allowing ITN to surface content without “being reliant on opaque algorithms of others”.

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On stage three weeks after taking the helm at ITN and only two days after the funeral for the Queen, Corp asked attendees whether “difficult questions we were asking about the monarchy can easily be turned on us” in the media.

“How do we adapt; how do we maintain loyalty; how do we reach a new generation, and even, how do we survive?”

She described the UK’s “unique news ecosystem where each broadcaster shares in and benefits from ITN’s infrastructure,” but warned it was a “delicate ecosystem… the battle news publishers face to get fair value for their content and it’s clear that the sustainability of journalism is as fragile as ever.”

Corp said the ITV News Youtube livestream of the royal funeral attracted nine million views, and that its broader Tiktok coverage of the Queen’s death brought four million views.

But she warned that sort of online volume on was not necessarily sustainable for publishers, saying: “We saw huge digital engagement at the start of the Ukraine war, but after a few weeks, saw that tail off for some of our services, even when TV news was still dominated by wall-to-wall war reporting.”

Answering a Press Gazette question after her speech, Corp said she had not received indications from the new Government as to when the industry could expect a bill inducing big tech to pay news publishers for their content.

“We can’t hang around, because everything’s moving on and we’re going to be in a whole different era soon. But I don’t think we want to rush through something that people aren’t happy with…

“It’d be good if it wasn’t on a snail’s pace.”

Press Gazette has the speech in full below.

Rachel Corp’s speech in full

For many of us in broadcast news, marking the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II was one of the biggest stories of our professional lives.

These were scenes and a scale we had never experienced before and quite frankly are unlikely to experience again. The responsibility weighed heavy: how to be an eyewitness to history; how to do justice to an extraordinary 70-year reign; how to celebrate and commiserate while also daring to contemplate the thornier questions about the future.  

Yes, we undertook years of planning, but nothing can quite prepare you for the actual moment when it happens. And yet, right across the board, I feel news organisations struck the right chord.

We provided depth and context, awe and spectacle, warmth and community. We intuitively knew when to add value with context and commentary. But we bravely knew when the stunning cinematography could speak for itself while we held a very long, very powerful, silence.  

Our teams around the UK spoke to those who took great pride in the British pomp, British history and British broadcasting as it played out for the world to see. 

We stand here on the brink of some of the biggest changes to the media landscape in decades; we’re awaiting a new Media Bill under new political leadership; we’re facing a climate of uncertainty about the future funding of the BBC and the ownership of Channel 4 and watching support for many public service channels across Europe being ripped away.

But just as we can let pictures speak for themselves, so too we can let our journalism speak for itself.

We have just experienced the most powerful reminder, when it’s needed most, of the power of British public service television; of our ability to come together to produce extraordinary events at a global scale; of our prowess in taking pooled footage and re-shaping it for our distinct audiences, and of our continued relevance to the nation no matter how deep the pockets of the US streamers.  

The hundreds of hours of effort, creative energy and expertise demonstrated by journalists, producers, planners, crew and technical staff was not only inspiring to watch, it saw incredible results. The funeral of the late Queen saw a huge 27 million viewers in the UK on TV, with millions more online, and reports of over a billion globally.

Over the 11-day period, ITN alone produced hours and hours of live news specials and extended bulletins, while ITN Productions turned around obituaries, documentaries and discussion programmes hosted by Andrew Neil and Jeremy Vine across ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

We also helped satisfy the huge global appetite with bespoke programming for scores of international channels, as well as through digital specials across social platforms, including for our own Royal Family Channel on Youtube which doubled its subscribers in a matter of days.   

What’s more, we ensured those in the long queues or wishing to watch with others were able to, by supplying those large screens in London parks with ITV News’ coverage.   

We even made sure British Airways’ long-haul passengers didn’t miss proceedings on Monday, because – 40,000 feet above sea level or not – we were able to livestream ITV News’ funeral coverage. Some of the images may have resembled a bygone era, but the technology was firmly twenty-first century.  

But beyond demonstrating journalistic prowess and technical innovation in the field, in the studio – and yes, even in the sky – you may be asking: “what does this one-off event covering an historic seven decades on the throne have to do with the future of media, which is why we’re here today?”

You could well draw some parallels between the monarchy and the media. The difficult questions we were asking about the monarchy can easily be turned on us: how do we adapt; how do we maintain loyalty; how do we reach a new generation, and even, how do we survive?  

Put into consideration the news agenda we’ve had in recent years. From Brexit to a pandemic; the war in Ukraine to an energy crisis; partygate to a new PM.

It’s no wonder that journalists, I think, have been on the brink of burnout, and audiences saying at times they are sick of the relentlessly negative news cycle.

We could sense that, and the recent Reuters report proved it, with what they described as a rising wave of “news avoiders”.  

[Read more: Six charts that sum up the state of the global news industry in 2022]

I believe, however, that our unprecedented coverage and the overwhelming response give us cause for optimism that goes beyond celebrating the huge numbers turning to “traditional” TV news programmes at those times of national importance (surely putting paid, actually, to the idea that “the TV bulletin is dead”).

Once we take stock of the last fortnight, it could represent something of a turning point where news media can come back stronger.

The challenge for all of us is how to sustain the momentum and harness some of these positives, when we know that around the corner, we have a new government, a fragile Union, divisive public discourse, whatever is going on in Ukraine, and a cost-of-living crisis. (There go those “news avoiders”, running a mile…)  

We could start with our journalists. I’ve been struck by just how much recent events have given our teams a renewed sense of purpose; a fresh awareness of actively contributing to the annals of history. But given the challenging climate ahead, we all need to think hard about how we maintain the huge sense of motivation we’re witnessing and crucially, how we harness it in the future.

Is a “sense of purpose” going to be enough to retain our best talent or attract the best people into the industry when business models are challenged as we know?

We should also consider our audiences. We made enormous efforts in recent days to truly reflect a wider range of voices, from all backgrounds, travelling extensively to all four nations as well as to Commonwealth countries. Putting those people at the heart of our stories, not just leaving it to pundits in studios, I think has been really powerful. The simple vox pop at its best – interestingly an ITN innovation many decades ago when it sought to offer an alternative service to the buttoned-up BBC of the time.

This connects with our audiences immediately. But we all need to go much further, because until we’re truly representative, we risk irrelevance for so many.

And it’s by putting reporters on the ground, where they can immerse themselves in a community and do proper legwork to truly understand local issues and different perspectives, that [we] will increase public trust in news again. Experts in a studio have their place but protecting eye-witness journalism should see us re-engage those who have turned away from news; form deeper relationships with regular news consumers as well as reach new audiences.

That requires significant investment and that takes us on to our next challenge.  

For several years now, ITN has warned of the threats to journalism and has put forward a number of proposals aimed at making it more sustainable. From the Government taking concerted action to protect the future of public service broadcasting by reiterating its purpose and strengthening its business model; to more stringent measures when it comes to the unregulated social media platforms, to a kite-marking system for trusted, regulated news brands online.  

ITN employs just over 800 staff, and we feel we play a vital role in contributing to the plurality of public service news provision that is key for a democratic society. We are a small company, but we feel that we punch above our weight, as I hope we demonstrated in recent days.  

Alongside our sport, TV series, post-production and business divisions, we produce three distinct news programmes, independently, under one roof and consumed by almost 70% of the British population. It’s a unique news ecosystem where each broadcaster shares in and benefits from ITN’s infrastructure, while receiving independent news content tailored specifically for our different audiences on ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.   

It’s also a delicate ecosystem that relies on well-resourced public service television. I’ve already noted the challenges they face, and while other media are turning to subscription models, broadcast news and those digital products associated with them, remain an important free and reliable option for audiences in an increasingly crowded market that’s rife with mis- and disinformation.  

But add to this the might of the tech giants and the battle news publishers face to get fair value for their content and it’s clear that the sustainability of journalism is as fragile as ever.

This is why we need media policies that properly address the seismic shifts we’ve seen and support an industry that’s the envy of the world – whether it’s the expected Media Bill, Online Harms Bill or Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

Fact-checked, authoritative journalism has never been more important in maintaining a healthy democracy, but that comes at a cost. Can regulators make the platforms pay a fair price for quality information?   

Many of us were encouraged by proposals for a Digital Markets Unit outlined in the Furman report in early 2019, but our concerns about the lack of legislation to give it teeth have escalated to the point where a broad group of news brands, broadcasters, magazine and book publishers, as well as consumer bodies, have joined forces to lobby for its speedy introduction.  

Of course, in the meantime, we continue to innovate to allow audiences to receive news in a variety of different ways on different platforms, despite digital revenues remaining tiny at present.

At ITN, Channel 4 News delivers on its remit to engage younger and more diverse audiences every day and has attracted over 10 million followers on social media while views across the platforms are more than 600 million in the year to date so far.

ITV News was the first news brand to launch a youth-skewing digital news service, The Rundown, while its funeral coverage was the biggest event we’ve ever streamed across our platforms, with nine million people and counting watching the livestream on Youtube and another four million watching live events on Tiktok.  

All incredibly important for brand awareness, but that won’t impact the bottom line unless we can level-up the relationship between platforms and publishers, potentially with an Australia-style bargaining code – a proven model that has brought opposing parties to a point of agreement, facilitating successful, fair, commercial negotiations without the need for government intervention or dispute resolution.   

[Read more: Support for Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code grows as 24 publishing minnows secure Google deals]

In the meantime, we are hugely encouraged by what will be an industry first with ITV’s investment in PSB news via its ITVX streaming service.

This new platform will see content made by the ITV News team feature prominently – bespoke up-to-date video on demand, as opposed to rolling news, so that viewers won’t need to jump around multiple platforms and will be able to access their trusted news presented by our familiar on-air team, all on one place, whatever time they want it. American streaming networks like Peacock have already shown this is a valued add-on to their drama, comedy and documentary output.  

For the platforms, keeping audiences is a clear business imperative, and this is a really exciting development in the world of SVODs [subscription video on demand platforms]. It very much feels like a key part of the future of news in a nonlinear world, and we are proud to be leading the way with the innovation and development of a service that will still reflect all our PSB values. It will allow us to experiment and get the kind of real time data on audience behaviour that we sometimes lack with current models and avoids us being reliant on opaque algorithms of others to surface our content.  

There may be challenges ahead, but as I hope I’ve outlined, there are also causes for optimism that mean I’m embracing my new role and my first three, very significant weeks as ITN’s CEO. 

I’m so proud of ITN’s 66-year-legacy, the prestige and trust we engender. I’m also proud of our three distinct news brands and will do all I can to protect them well into the future. We’ve always innovated but now is the time for us to accelerate our digital plans, to end the idea of [distinct] TV and digital teams.   

I’m energised about finding new ways to monetise content within news and within our non-news, commercial divisions, and to tap into the wealth of ideas, talent and specialisms which we house under one roof in this very unique, independent production company.  

I’m excited about ITN’s upcoming rebrand which aims to more powerfully position us as a purpose-driven media business of the future, and I welcome the measures we are taking to facilitate collaboration across our teams as well as across the industry. In recent times this work has included the introduction of a Reporters Charter and filming in Courts, as well facilitating debates on those big issues facing journalism.

I believe that by working with other industry players and, we hope, with government, we will reset the relationship between platforms and publishers and determine how the profits of collaboration should be shared between those who circulate content and those who produce it in the first place.  

I’m also still so proud of how all the teams at ITN pulled together to continue to provide the news throughout the pandemic, and how the latest events illustrated our agility, expertise and famous “can-do spirit”. Recent innovations have got us this far, but we’ve got to stay abreast of rapid technological change to keep us broadcasting the news on whatever platform, well into the future. 

We can all play our part in adapting to survive and it is innovators who will lead the charge to transform and safeguard journalism as we know it.

But we should caution against seeking volume over quality. We saw huge digital engagement at the start of the Ukraine war, but after a few weeks, saw that tail off for some of our services, even when TV news was still dominated by wall-to-wall war reporting.

We need to be mindful that our broadcast agenda does not always match what news audiences want online, but if our funding model was based purely on clicks, we would have given up on crucial, eyewitness accounts of the horrors in Ukraine, or other important but difficult stories in our digital output. Instead, we would have focused on dancing cats or near miss car crashes on CCTV.  

For growth and survival, we also need the support of media-savvy politicians to protect the best of British news and public service television.

We take it upon ourselves to produce news content to the same standard online as on our TV bulletins, despite no regulatory requirement to do so. We never take trust for granted, it underpins everything we do – and therefore we choose to comply and use the same editorial standards as we do for TV wherever you consume our news. However, we do support more stringent measures across the board, helping tackle everything from disinformation to online safety for children.   

It’s only by taking action now that we can ensure quality, regulated, trusted journalism into the future.

With the onset of winter and the cost-of-living crisis, public service journalism will continue to be vital. Let’s make it count.

[Read more: TV news is dying? ‘We’re not going to take that lying down’, says ITV editor Rachel Corp]

Picture: ASV Photography/Press Gazette

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