ITV is to launch a free-to-air channel called ITVBe which will target younger, female audiences with shows including The Only Way is Essex. ITV said that the ad-funded channel would show a variety of lifestyle and reality TV programmes, including the popular Real Housewives series.

Lucy Mecklenburgh The Only Way is EssexLucy Mecklenburgh Will Be Appearing on ITVBe.

"We identified an opportunity to develop what is currently part of the ITV2 schedule - reality and non-scripted shows, which are very popular with young women and housewives with kids - into a distinct channel proposition, aimed more squarely at that audience," said Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV.

"ITV2 will continue to be the youngest channel in our portfolio, outside of CITV, and the strategy of bringing more scripted series, both acquired and commissioned, will continue apace, alongside panel shows, formats and other young-skewing commissions."

ITV said that the new channel would complement ITV2 (the current home of TOWIE) - which is to tighten its focus on comedy and drama series.

The major announcement comes after ITV's announcement at the end of last month that it intends to launch a pay-TV channel named IT Encore, showcasing the "best of British drama" in the same way that HBO promotes high quality offerings like Girls and True Detective. 

Joey EssexJoey Essex Has Become A Household Name Through 'The Only Way is Essex'

"ITVBe reinforces our plan to maximise audiences and revenues from our broadcasting business," said Adam Crozier, chief executive of ITV. "Alongside our recently announced new pay channel ITV Encore, this is another important step forward in our strategy to become the most watched, most loved and most talked about family of free and pay channels for every household and every advertiser in the UK."

The Only Way is Essex, a reality programme set in Brentwood, has made household names of Joey Essex, Lauren Goodger and Mark Wright, who left the show to host various programmes for ITV.