Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of television, once again put out a call to producers Thursday (Aug. 27) at the virtual Edinburgh TV Festival for more reality and entertainment shows following the success of its smash format Love Island.
“It’s just shown us — Love Island — what can happen when you get something right, when you’ve really got a hit, from advertisers to the audiences,” Lygo (pictured) said.
“We have to make these great big shows that cut through, that [have] a feeling of, ‘You must watch it.’ At the moment, streamers can’t really do this live. So it’s a competitive advantage we have… We will be doing more of these sorts of shows.”
Buzzfeed UK’s Scott Bryan interviewed Lygo on ITV’s fall schedule, COVID-19 and the broadcaster’s plans to strengthen diversity on- and off-screen.
“It’s been the most extraordinary year. Pre-COVID seems like another lifetime ago. Where production is back, generally speaking, lots of issues are emerging as we start to film,” Lygo said.
Those challenges include producing studio shows such as The Masked Singer without a live audience, and moving long running series I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here from Australia to the UK for the first time.
In May, ITV2 postponed the seventh season of the ITV Studios-produced Love Island to 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not long after, in June, the broadcaster pulled the plug on the format’s winter 2021 edition.
At this stage, Lygo said ITV is planning to move forward on the summer 2021 edition, pointing to the fact that ITV Entertainment is currently in production on the second season of Love Island in the U.S.
“It’s eight, nine months away. We’ll proceed on the basis we’re going to do it,” he said.
In response to a question around whether ITV is reliant on Love Island to draw younger audiences, Lygo said the broadcaster is careful to not milk the format.
“Does it prevent us from doing other new shows? No, honestly. Not financially yet, not for space in the schedule. I think winter was a good experiment and helped make the winter so successful for us this year pre-COVID,” he said.
“I’m going to put out a call now to all producers [about] the need for more reality, more fun entertainment shows… We’re always on the lookout for more.”
“It’s not definitely returning, it might return. The format will tweak,” Lygo said. “But I’m sure X Factor will be back at some stage and it’s really [about] when is the right moment. Simon controls it — When does he want it to come back? How does he want it to come back? And hopefully we can be part of it.”
CREATING “NOISIER, LOUDER” CONTENT
As people across the UK have spent more time at home since the onset of the pandemic, Lygo said ITV’s ratings have seen a boost.
“The ratings have been up for nearly all the channels,” he said.
And while COVID-19 has accelerated the impact of the streaming wars of 2020, Lygo isn’t anticipating any major changes to ITV’s viewership.
“There’s never been so much programming available… so, of course this is going to erode some of the traditional viewing but people also like the familiar, they like their habits,” he said. “So much choice can make you favor or trust the thing that you know already.”
While viewers may crave familiarity, Lygo said ITV is looking for “noisier, louder” content to compete with the onslaught of streaming services.
“We’ve got to think, ‘What is it that you would come to ITV for?’ And largely it’s big, fun entertainment in all its genres and our dramas. And so that’s where the concentration has been and will continue to be.”
Though many broadcasters in the UK and elsewhere have reported higher ratings since the novel coronavirus sent most of the world into lockdown, advertising slumped.
Pre-COVID, Lygo said ITV had an “incredibly strong” opening to the year.
“The money was pouring in and everything was marvelous. Then COVID hit,” he said. “We have seen [advertising] come back fast, so far. It’s just harder to actually judge. Normally it’s booked pretty solidly in advance. Now there’s a lot of advertisers coming in late, so you can’t forecast.”
Despite the turbulence and the potential for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, Lygo is confident heading into the last quarter of the year.
“We can’t control this, we can only provide a schedule that will get as many views as possible and advertisers will want to pile in behind it. So the concentration for us has been on making this autumn — and into January and March next year — as strong as possible,” he said.
“We raided a few things we had, which would have gone out over the spring and summer, and kept them back for this autumn. So we have a very rich and strong autumn schedule.”
“EVERYBODY HAS WOKEN UP TO THIS”
In the wake of an international reckoning concerning racial equity spurred by the killing of George Floyd and increased attention around the Black Lives Matter movement, ITV, like many businesses in the industry, has outlined its plans to improve diversity and inclusion.
The plan included diversifying its presenters across programs, stepping up recruitment efforts and instituting mandatory race and inclusion training, among other items.
“Everybody has woken up to this,” Lygo said. “Yes, we’ve sort of heard this before. But I don’t think we’ve heard it so loudly, so consistently. And I feel everybody is now taking responsibility, and this is the only way proper change will happen, if at every level — production, commissioning, everything — we put diversity front of mind on every decision that we’re making about any show.”
“Commissioning editors, producers, independents, everybody has to be saying, ‘I haven’t got the right mix of people here to make this the best program possible.’ But what we as a broadcaster can do quite quickly is change the look on screen — have more diversity on screen. And we are doing that. Part of the way of doing that is having senior commissioners who are more diverse than they maybe have been in the past.”
Bryan pointed to Channel 5′s Ben Frow, who set out a “no diversity, no commission” policy, and asked Lygo whether ITV would take a similar stance.
“I’m always nervous about rules and regulations… It’s well intentioned but it can lead you down the wrong route. We shouldn’t have any production — certainly in London, where we do most of our work — which is not reflective of the community around it. So, I would hope that is already a part of what any production crewing up should be looking at.”