Winter Love Island could make or break ITV's commercial powerhouse

Just Eat's Winter Love Island partnership

A few weeks into the first winter edition of ITV2's most successful show, The Drum explores the early viewing figures for Love Island and what the extension means for commercial partners.

Since its reboot in its current form in 2015, Love Island's popularity has snowballed. Starting with an average viewership of 500,000 for the first series, the reality show's audience has continually climbed and hit 4.2 million for last summer's smash hit series five launch. Its mainstream success has opened up a new revenue stream for ITV, which has taken the annual programme twice yearly to capitalise on its success.

But the first winter instalment of Love Island from South Africa drew just 2.8 million viewers when it debuted earlier this month, raising questions about whether the value of the franchise is on the wane for its many brand partners, which for this series include Just Eat and TikTok.

Despite the underwhelming year-on-year comparison, the launch episode is still the most-watched TV show of the year for young people across all channels with 1.9 million people between the ages of 16 and 34 having tuned in to episode one.

So as things start to heat up in the villa for the inaugural winter series, what do these numbers mean for brands?

The most lucrative property in ITV's portfolio

Estimates put Love Island revenue at £77m for ITV in 2019, that's an average of 5.7 million viewers an episode. Its ad breaks reportedly generated three times-more revenue than steadfast soap Coronation Street. In 2018, it and England’s strong performance in the World Cup were credited with giving the media owner a 22% rise in ad revenues.

Love Island fever hasn't just swept the UK either, with the show having managed to gain traction with global audiences too. In the US, it even it inspired a surprisingly-accurate Saturday Night Live parody.

In the years since its reboot, ITV has loaded the property with partners and product placements to drive higher revenue from its network-leading audiences. This cheesy reality show, once lost in a sea of competitors, has matured into the most lucrative property in ITV's portfolio, boasting the biggest audiences in the network.

After seven seasons of grafting from ITV, a host of premium partners are now funnelling their marketing budgets into six weeks of data and drama.

Among them is Just Eat which has replaced Uber Eats as Love Island's primary partner. With food delivery services in fierce competition to take the lead show of its time, the brand is hoping viewers will build up a hunger during primetime viewing and has put Dereck the Delivery driver at the heart of its creative.

Official fashion partner ISawItFirst is dressing the Islanders (and running shoppable campaigns to boot). While Look Fantastic is the beauty sponsor. Both advertisers have taken a product placement role.

The Love Island Shop, available in the app and online has also returned for the winter season. Personalised water bottles, suitcases, phone cases and washbags are available now for fans to buy, and LoveBurst beauty products and sunglasses from Polaroid also feature.

Elsewhere, Spotify hosts the official Love Island playlist. Each episode features new acts which are then hosted in the playlist. Additionally, Spotify sponsors the in-show party and is among the hosts of ITV’s Love Island podcast.

Meanwhile, TikTok is propping up Love Island's 'First Look' show, which hosts original content and sets hashtag challenges related to key moments across YouTube and Facebook. Due to the musical element of the app, TikTok music acts may also get an extra boost if integrated with the challenges.

And then there's the individual fame and deals contestants can muster from their time on the big screen. Of course, marketers should tread carefully since last year over half of contestants' social media followers were found to be fake.

A linear love story?

Paul Gubbins, global programmatic strategy lead at Unruly, said Love Island "represents a true love story" between consumers and traditional linear TV. He asked: “What other TV show can we say has driven so many audiences to tune in at a set time of day, every day?"

“What initially started with a headline partnership with Superdrug that involved ads and product placement has supercharged into a growing roster of partners.”

The addition of TikTok, which is promoting the episodes with short-form snippets, is the most interesting partnership this year. “Social media video content is key for advertisers looking to target second-screening viewers who are commenting on the show in real-time" added Gubbins.

The reason brands have flocked around the property over the last few years is that it provides them with a rare chance to reach a young, engaged audience that has been notoriously hard to target on linear. “As the Love Island partnership space becomes more crowded, it’s important that brands stay creative and daring in their campaigns in order to stand out.”

To stand out, he suggested playable ads that engage with viewers online to more gamified styles of advertising that could tie in with elements from the show. Creative connected TV formats that could be personalised depending on the viewer and their interests - perhaps even to personalise and serve an ad for the Love Island robes for example.

He concluded: “The success of Love Island and its advertising empire proves that there is potential for TV to succeed for brands – but it is about these shows being clever with the various elements that brands can be involved in and the creative ways this can be achieved.”

But could there be diminishing returns from the format as ITV squeezes more out of it?

A recent YouGov poll offers some consumer sentiment that could stand to fresh up later seasons.

Half of readers polled said they would watch an exclusively same-sex series - a point of friction has been the lack of diversity in its guests. This may be the way for them to cover that base.

87% who would support a decision to include contestants with physical disabilities. 79% opted to turn the show on its head with a format for "unattractive contestants" - only 70% supported homosexual contestants. 66% would watch an island for contestants aged 50 or older.

The winter edition, of course, broke new ground, being the first to host twins.

These are twists that could attract new audiences - and sponsors. As for the current partners, they'll be keeping a close eye on those viewing figures to see if things heat up for the winter edition.

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