While agile startups might sniff at the broadcaster’s release cycle, it’s been monumental change among ITV’s ranks - putting it in a position to take mitigated risks as it attempts to modernise its legacy systems.

With the desire to become a more agile, digital business that can compete with Channel 4’s 4 on Demand, BBC iPlayer, Netflix and even Amazon, ITV is acutely aware of the fact it needs to become more like a software company.

ITV's developers favour REST over SOAP for its APIs ©ITV
ITV's developers favour REST over SOAP for its APIs ©ITV

To do this, it needs to nurture innovation amongst its developers, but with this comes risk.

“Dealing with risk is about validating your work as quickly as you can and we have made a big change at ITV, going from releasing software once every quarter, to once every day, and that has been really really difficult to do,” says Paul Clark, ITV’s online CTO.

“We wanted to change the way we delivered software to mitigate risk, and now the changeset is so small and the push to change is so slick you can deal with it in minutes.”

Clark is using APIs to unlock systems and aggregate services so IT can make changes dictated by the top, he adds. “We’re trying to break down our systems into smaller and smaller systems that can change more quickly.”

Currently, ITV syndicates content among its own ranks, as well as partners in its B2B channels - which is how ITV schedules and programs appear on a Sky box, for example. Its online platform team aggregates metadata, licenses and assets that are pushed through its front-end systems like ITV player or its web or mobile app.

Its legacy issues began 10 years ago when the broadcaster amalgamated its regional systems in the switch from analogue to digital.

Now, ITV’s core application is its scheduling system, which drives “almost all” the broadcaster’s processes. But with a scheduling system at 35-years old with 120 bespoke interfaces (and no plans to replace), the platform team had a tricky task to integrate external and internal data.  

Last year, to provide the 60-year-old broadcaster with agility, Clark’s team wrapped this system in RESTful [REST, or Representational State Transfer, is a simpler web service design mode than Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)] APIs with vendor Apigee to create a platform that exposes data securely, and quickly.

Opening up APIs to let developers innovate?

Although the firm doesn’t currently have plans to open its API to third-party developers, it is in a position where, “if a partner asked for scheduling data we could give them an API key and tell them to fill their boots”, Clark says. This process would previously have taken months to complete.

Further, it is working hard to nurture innovation within its ranks. The move to digital has been underpinned by a transformation in ITV’s people structure. When Clark took the reins after moving from the BBC, he found himself in “quite a dysfunctional organisation”. After shaking up about “70 percent” of employees who weren’t aligned with digital-first values, Clark set about hiring the right talent to keep ITV on the straight and narrow.

“It was really hard to find the right people. We spent about 18 months recruiting...looking back on it was the most important thing that we did.”