ITV’s director of television Kevin Lygo has said the U.K. commercial broadcaster will need to “up its game” to keep audiences engaged and away from the lure of content-rich streaming giants such as Netflix and Disney Plus.
During a virtual session hosted by the Edinburgh TV Festival, the executive said the broadcasters’ ratings are up in news and daytime but flagging in the peak 8-10 p.m. slots, when terrestrial channels are most vulnerable to a steady supply of slick shows offered by SVODs. Netflix, in particular, has enjoyed success during lockdown with docuseries “Tiger King” and, most recently, the clever launch of reality show “Too Hot to Handle,” which targets the same audience as ITV’s biggest show, reality competition “Love Island.”
“We’ve had some big hits with ‘Quiz’ and ‘Beat the Chasers’ but even there you can see people’s habits are changing because they are discovering Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus storing things up,” said Lygo.
“In that 8-10 p.m. zone, I’m concerned we need to up our game to keep people staying and watching us. Habits will [change] depending on however long this goes on for,” he continued. “Not having the strongest of summer schedules now because we don’t have the sport, and running a lot of repeats, are people going to get out of the habit [of watching broadcast TV]?”
Lygo also cast the first signs of doubt as to this summer’s edition of “Love Island,” which traditionally airs on ITV2 in June and July. As revealed by Variety earlier this month, the broadcaster was understood to have been considering a U.K. shoot for the program, and shifting its air date to August and September.
Lygo said the broadcaster is now considering the feasibility of a summer outing. “Will Mallorca open its doors to hundreds of production people arriving? Will there have to be a quarantine? We have to factor all that in,” he said.
“Also, what signal might it be sending out if we’re doing a show where everyone is crammed together, slobbering over each other and the rest of the world is told, ‘Don’t go near anyone in the park.’ I’m a bit uneasy about that,” said Lygo.
ITV will “make a decision in the proper way quite soon” but “it affects a lot of people and there’s a big commercial impact for us.” Lygo also revealed that the team looked at doing “Love Island” in Cornwall, a scenic coastal region in western England, made popular in recent years by BBC drama “Poldark.”
“I don’t think making it in the U.K. would be the same show, and we don’t want to not make the same show we have made because it’s been so successful,” he said.
Elsewhere, ITV head of entertainment Katie Rawcliffe confirmed the broadcaster is currently casting the second season of “The Masked Singer,” which debuted in January and pulled in strong ratings across its run.
“We are looking to definitely do it,” said Rawcliffe. “We’ll probably do it with or without an audience, and we’ll get the casting right.”
ITV’s main experiment in drama production during lockdown goes to air next week with “Isolation Stories” from “Philomena” writer Jeff Pope — a four-part series of 15-minute shorts conceived by Pope.
“It’s not the future of drama, but it’s something we wouldn’t have contemplated before and when we see them next week, we’ll think, ‘Hm, maybe we can do this more often,'” said Lygo, noting production wrapped earlier this week. “We’ve learned a lot of tricks about how to shoot properly from that.”
Lygo also didn’t hold back in discussing the insurance pitfalls faced by U.K. producers and broadcasters looking to get cameras rolling again in the coming months.
“It’s a huge issue for every production,” said Lygo. “If you’re making ‘The Voice,’ how do you ensure against, halfway through filming, not being able to carry on? What happens if someone does get ill during production? Insurance companies at the moment are saying, ‘No, I don’t think so, we’re not going to insure that.'”
The executive revealed that broadcasters are pressuring the government to “go to the insurance industry and say, ‘Oy, you’ve got to do your bit to help out here.’ This will be industry-wide, not just television — it’s everything. And it may be that the broadcaster has to take a deeper breath and go, ‘Well, we’ll take the risk and do it.’ But we have to figure out what that means to us financially.'”
Advertising on ITV has been “severely hit” by COVID-19, said Lygo, who admitted that ad revenue for April and May are “really shaky.”
“But we’re a big strong company with big pockets and resources and credit all over the place,” said Lygo. “We can ride this for a while.” The executive highlighted that ITV Studios has been hardest hit by the pandemic, with around 80% of all work suspended.