As the UK’s largest commercial television broadcaster and programme maker, ITV has a powerful collection of intellectual property at its disposal, with plenty of potential for unique visitor attractions.
For over 60 years, Coronation Street has entertained viewers with the trials and tribulations of the residents of a fictional cobbled street in the North West of England. Fellow ‘soap opera’ Emmerdale also attracts large audiences.
Currently on screens for the 21st time, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! is notorious for putting its contestants through excruciating challenges. Meanwhile, Ninja Warrior UK is the British version of a Japanese TV format that has aired in almost 20 countries.
Now all four shows can be experienced outside the home. This is thanks to the network of attractions ITV Studios has developed around the UK over the past seven years.
Coronation Street: The Tour
Fans of Coronation Street were given chance to visit its original set in 2014/15 when ITV moved production of the programme from Manchester city centre to MediaCityUK a few miles away.
Coronation Street: The Tour was operated for two years by Continuum Attractions, the Yorkshire-based leisure company. The Quay Street site, once occupied by former ITV franchisee Granada, has an interesting history as a visitor attraction. Then part of a leisure and hospitality group that also included the now-defunct Camelot and American Adventure theme parks, Granada operated a British take on the studio park concept there from 1988 to 1999.
Initially very popular, it included tours of the Coronation Street and House of Commons sets. There was also a New York street scene. Plus, visitors could enjoy a motion ride and a short-lived example of the world’s first flying coaster.
The site is currently being redeveloped as a flagship cultural space called The Factory. It is already home to The Crystal Maze Live Experience. Only a year after the closure of the Granada Studios Tour, the company merged with Carlton TV to form the single ITV brand that exists today.
ITV opens Emmerdale sets to the public
ITV partnered again with Continuum to run the Emmerdale Studio Experience attraction in Leeds in 2016. This was followed by the Emmerdale Village tour, which still operates to the north of Leeds today.
The broadcaster also ran Coronation Street tours under its own steam on the soap’s new set at MediaCityUK until 2020, when these were suspended due to COVID filming protocols. Now, a new visitor centre has been built on site ready for the resumption of tours next spring, and Continuum is back on board as operator.
“Just as in the television industry, where you have crews and pick the right people for the job, it made good sense to partner where we could,” says James Penfold, Controller of Partnerships (Brand, Live & Ventures) at ITV.
“The Continuum relationship worked particularly well with the original Coronation Street tour back in 2014. They come from a heritage background and are all about telling stories.”
ITV: More than TV
In addition to the studio tours, ITV has hosted live events linked to hit shows like The X Factor and Dancing On Ice. Over the past three years, it has built up a network of 12 Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Parks.
Along with its streaming services and the production and distribution of content for other broadcasters, live experiences and attractions form part of ITV’s ‘More Than TV’ strategy. This aims to reduce its reliance on advertising revenue.
“Brands like Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain’s Got Talent are very engaging shows with large audiences,” says Penfold. “However, to engage with audiences now amid social media and all the other peripheral distractions, you need to reach out beyond the show itself. Hence the ‘More Than TV’ slogan.”
Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Parks
Originally known in Japan as Sasuke, ITV licensed the Ninja Warrior format from Tokyo Broadcasting System Television in 2015. It quickly became the leading physical challenge game show on British TV.
Two years later, ITV tested the water with a Ninja Warrior UK Aqua Park at Liquid Leisure in Windsor.
“The operators already had a very successful aqua park business, and added it as a second gate,” says Fergus Campbell, ITV Studios’ Controller of Commercial Development. “But it is a seasonal business. Nevertheless, it proved that the public cared enough about the Ninja Warrior brand for us to look at a year-round, indoor proposition.”
The first Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Park, in the Hanley district of Stoke-on-Trent, turbo-charged an attraction formerly known as TruNinja when it opened in 2018.
Guests can climb, balance, jump and swing across different obstacles as they develop their Ninja skills. Operated by Rogue Ninja, the site was recently relaunched after a £650,000 refurbishment. Partnerships with operators of existing attractions have been key to the rapid rollout of Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Parks over the past few years.
ITV attractions transform trampoline parks
At this time: “There were something like 200 trampoline parks around the UK,” says Campbell. “I’d taken my kids to a few, but I could never remember the names of any. There were no differentiated brands. Someone would open a trampoline park, then a few weeks later someone would open one next door. So then they were competing on price.
“We thought we could create something a little bit more interesting, with a bit more viability attached to it. What we provide is a really famous brand, which we support on TV. This gives the operator potential to capture a decent market share.”
The second, third and fourth Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Parks – in Wigan, Gloucester and Cardiff – were all in former trampoline parks.
“Then people with retail space started approaching us,” says Campbell. “Next we thing we knew we were in Meadowhall Retail Park in Sheffield. In Eastbourne, we’re actually inside a shopping centre.”
The 13th Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Park will open this December in Chatham, Kent. Covering a 25,000 square feet site (2,300 sq m) in the town’s maritime district, Prime Leisure will be the operator.
Ninja Warrior partners
One of the most successful licensees, in spite of running one of the smaller sites (14,000 sq ft/1,300 sq m), has been Ali Hay in Edinburgh. A contestant on the fifth series of Ninja Warrior UK, he is a real champion of the brand.
“We started off working with you might call the mum and dad type operators,” says Campbell. “But then Innovation Leisure came on board.”
Run by Mike Anderson, who Campbell describes as “The godfather of the whole sector,” Innovation produces the obstacle courses and equipment for each Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Park and also operates its own Total Ninja attraction in Manchester.
“They gave us the confidence that it would work,” says Campbell. “Between the two of us, we wrote the playbook for future sites. Landlords are very risk-averse people who don’t like to give leases to startup businesses that haven’t yet proved themselves. But the minute we give a licensee a Ninja Warrior business card, they are immediately invited into the boardroom.”
Another key partner is the Burrhill Group, an operator of several minigolf and hospitality businesses under the Mulligans and Bunkers brands. It operates Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Parks in Sheffield, Southampton and soon Milton Keynes.
A sustainable leisure proposition
There has been no new Ninja Warrior UK series on TV since 2019. Principally this is because of filming restrictions during the pandemic. Nevertheless, ITV plans to open at least another six Adventure Park attractions across the UK in 2022.
“I think we’ve created a really sustainable family leisure proposition that is even more accessible than TV show on which it’s based,” says Campbell. “We’ve got families with kids, probably in the eight to 16 age range, although we are developing some soft play concepts. As a parent of an 11 and a 14-year-old, I love taking them to places where they can get active. In the evenings, you get a lot more young adults.”
ITV’s success with Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Parks meant that Tokyo Broadcasting System Television let it develop outlets in other countries that have versions of the show. The first will open in Germany next year. Campbell doesn’t rule out working on attractions with other third party brands.
However, right now one of its own brands is enjoying the spotlight in the North West of England.
ITV’s I’m A Celebrity Jungle Challenge attraction
Nightly commercials for I’m A Celebrity Jungle Challenge were being screened at the time of writing, during the latest series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Here!
ITV’s most ambitious attraction to date, the 2,500 square metre facility is located over two floors of the Quayside complex at MediaCityUK in Salford, just outside Manchester. Its arrival is part of landlord Peel L&P’s plans to revitalise the former Lowry Outlet Mall and capitalise on the buzz elsewhere at MediaCity. Once again ITV turned to Continuum Attractions to provide operations expertise.
The reality show on which it is based has been a highlight of ITV’s winter schedules since 2002. I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! invites ‘campmates’ to complete nerve-racking trials and physical challenges. Often these involve copious amounts of bugs and critters. But some of the nicest moments actually come from the camaraderie in camp, as famous faces from diverse backgrounds bond over their isolation from the outside world.
Climbing walls, zip lines and gold stars
ITV’s new Jungle Challenge follows a smaller I’m A Celebrity attraction that operated at Thorpe Park from 2015 to 2018.
Guests on the new offering at MediaCityUK compete to win gold stars stored on an RFID wristband.
Activities include The Ascent (climbing walls), Tree Top Trail (ropes course), Treehouse (scramble net/slide), Spyrider (Rollglider), Jump The Lights (zip line). Jungle Run (Ninja Warrior style assault course) and Get A Grip. Guests must be a minimum of eight years to participate, and there is a min/max weight limit of 30/114kg.
The winner in each group takes the crown as King or Queen of the Jungle. They can then pose for a photo on a replica of the throne featured in the TV show. Further authentic moments include a photo opportunity on the Winner’s Bridge. Plus, there is the chance to answer questions from Kiosk Kev by picking up phones dotted around the attraction. Hosts Ant & Dec can be seen on screen, in a briefing area that is disguised as a Chinook helicopter.
Designed by leading creative design company Scruffy Dog, the key supplier was Walltopia, a world leader in the climbing and adventure & leisure industries, which also helped ‘gamify’ the experience. Ticketing is provided by ROLLER, the ticketing, CRM and POS specialist.
Does it include critters?
In creating the I’m A Celebrity Jungle Challenge attraction, ITV faced several tough decisions. Should it include live bugs or insect-eating challenges, one of the most controversial parts of the TV programme? Then there was a pandemic. Not only did this delay the opening of the attraction, but it also comprised its theming.
Usually, filming of I’m A Celebrity takes place in Australia. However, due to travel restrictions, this wasn’t possible in 2020. Now, for a second year, the show is live from Gwrych Castle in North Wales.
Yet the jungle theme, which was committed to in the design process before last year’s TV series, is viewed as timeless. There’s no bugs or critters in Jungle Challenge, but you can buy dried insects in the gift shop.
“If you look at the essence of the TV show, it’s all about overcoming challenges,” says Penfold. “Things like the eating challenges, which are done in the production environment in a very curated way, wouldn’t be feasible here. But we’ve got heights, frights and plenty of things of a physical nature. What we really wanted was for people to compete and have fun together, and it ticks those boxes.”
ITV’s entertainment hub
Penfold says the Jungle Challenge concept is “fully scalable” and does not rule out further I’m A Celebrity attractions, either in the UK or overseas territories where ITV licences the format.
Other than Peel’s desire to find an anchor entertainment tenant for Quayside, MediaCityUK made sense as a location for several reasons. When it reopens next year, ITV and Continuum will be able to offer cross-ticketing deals with Coronation Street: The Tour, just a short stroll away.
“It’s 65 years since Granada was born out of Manchester,” says Penfold. “We have a great relationship with the city, and Salford is our entertainment hub, where we make key shows like Coronation Street, The Voice and The Masked Singer.”
Has ITV got any attraction plans for London?
Something like the old Granada Studios Tour theme park might no longer fit with ITV’s live experience strategy. However, before the pandemic, the company did have plans to convert its old studios on London’s South Bank into a visitor attraction based on a popular TV drama.
The organisation decided to shelve this after concerns about tourist numbers in the capital after lockdown. But planning permission still exists for something of a similar nature, and there have apparently been some interesting proposals.
ITV’s name has previously been linked to The London Resort, as one of the potential IP providers alongside BBC Studios and Paramount Pictures.
Campbell is coy about what the broadcaster’s involvement may or may not be with the London Resort. “What I would say is ITV is always alive to any opportunity to bring viewers closer to our brands. But it’s a massive commitment. I think there’s so much opportunity right now with I’m A Celebrity Jungle Challenge and other nascent projects.”
The Chase for guests is on
Campbell confirms each Ninja Warrior UK Adventure Park typically attracts 150,000 guests in a normal year. So, with up to 18 venues by the end of next year, that’s a potential 2.5 million people connecting with an ITV show in physical form by 2022.
Combined with Jungle Challenge and the Coronation Street/Emmerdale tours, it could be as much as 3 million. “That’s getting close to the historical series average of viewers for a show like Ninja Warrior UK,” adds Campbell.
So what other ITV brands might be ripe for development as visitor attractions? Despite being one of its best-performing programmes, not Love Island apparently.
“It’s a huge show, particularly with young audiences,” says Campbell. “However, I think it’s one of those things that is just a deliciously passive experience. Other than the interaction you and your mates have talking about it. Not every brand on TV lends itself to something in the leisure environment.”
“I think there are definitely things we could do with [quiz shows] The Chase and Beat The Chasers. It doesn’t have to be a big family entertainment centre. But I think there’s scope to come up with a competitive socialising proposition that appeals to landlords and adds to the social fabric of people’s leisure time.”