ITV digital chief brushes off Love Island body image row: ‘we’re a sexy channel and hire sexy people’

ITV's head of digital Paul Mortimer has defended the casting of ITV2 hit Love Island. / ITV

ITV’s head of digital has brushed aside controversy over the network’s summer hit Love Island, which was blasted by critics for promoting unrealistic body image standards through the show and the advertising around it.

“We’re a sexy channel and we hire sexy people," Paul Mortimer said in response.

Mortimer was speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival alongside ITV head of studios Kevin Lygo on the success of Love Island, which at its peak drew over 4 million viewers.

But the show attracted heavy criticism. The chief executive of the NHS claimed it was “picking up the pieces” of a mental health crisis that is being exacerbated by the body image pressures on young people.

“Take a show like Love Island. Look at the adverts being shown alongside Love Island. You've got explicit ads being aimed at young women around breast cosmetic surgery. That is all playing into a set of pressures around body image that are showing up,” Simon Stevens said earlier this year.

Feminist campaign group Level Up also found that a large number of women who watched the show felt more self-conscious about their body image afterwards.

Mortimer denied that the show promoted an unhealthy ideal to viewers with the ITV reps saying it should be heralded as one of the success stories for British TV.

Lygo added that Love Island “shuts up everyone who’s been saying that young people don’t watch TV”.

The programme’s eight-week run boosted the performance of ITV's catch-up service Hub past rival BBC iPlayer for the first time ever, with Mortimer praising innovations around the show such as spin-off show ‘Aftersun’.

Given its success, speculation has mounted that Love Island could move from ITV2 to the larger ITV1 channel. However, Lygo suggested that Love Island would stay on ITV2 for the foreseeable future because it better fits the channel’s proposition to advertisers.

“We might give a few old ladies heart attacks if we put it on ITV1,” Lygo joked.

Mortimer and Lygo highlighted future projects for ITVBe, its entertainment channel, and encouraged advertisers to seriously consider the channel’s appeal to young women and young mothers in the UK.

“I say to advertisers: give me your money and I will deliver to you housewives with kids,” Lygo went on.

Properties coming to the channel in coming months include Absolutely Ascot (a “Towie-esque” reality show) and a 90-minute Gemma Collins special called Diva Espana.

Meanwhile, the future of long-running ITV tentpoles X-Factor, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and Britain’s Got Talent also looks promising despite warnings over a falling audience.

Lygo said the X-Factor “is an enormous success” and that the show “is an incredibly important show for us... it often dominates entire weekends in the autumn.”

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