Lessons in Love (Island): Sun, Sex, and mugging off

This summer has seen Love Island propelled from guilty pleasure to must-watch event TV, attracting a mass audience and receiving acclaim from even the most unlikely of places. Eddie Izzard was hooked, Liam Gallagher chose to watch it over Glastonbury coverage, rapper Stormzy declared it the best TV he’d seen for years, and Caitlin Moran penned an article celebrating its educational value. Elsewhere, long-reads and think-pieces pondering its success cropped up in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, GQ and Vice, among others.

Love Island as a format is over a decade old, but its popularity has grown steadily since its relaunch in 2015, with the reach of its nightly episodes on ITV2 beating BBC2, Channel 4 and Channel 5 in the same slot. But it’s not just the reach of the show that’s attracted attention, it’s also the demographic of its audience, and how and where they chose to watch.

On ITV2, the series attracted a loyal following among 16-24s. The finale won a 52% share of this audience, making it their second-most-viewed program of the year, trailing only the One Love Manchester benefit concert in May.

Almost a third of live viewing of the show was on the ITV Hub, highlighting the evolving role of on-demand platforms as more than just a destination for catch-up TV. Wherever it was watched, Love Island was classic event TV, with ITV encouraging conversations on social media as episodes aired and sharing unmissable moments almost instantaneously – not ideal when the ITV Hub crashed part-way into one live episode, leaving viewers cowering from spoilers.

The media has been obsessed with understanding why the series has proven so popular this year. How has it drawn in an audience night after night who usually aren’t interested in linear schedules?

On the surface the show is superficial, simplistic and seemingly trashy. But Caitlin Moran argues that it’s more like a documentary recreation of a process we all go through: “the mad rush to find love”. It’s an opinion echoed by the show’s commissioning editor, Amanda Stavri, who believes the fact sex is so prominent has little to do with the show’s success: “We don’t want Love Island to be a grubby show. Yes, we include some sex scenes, but the truth is, sex is part of relationships and part of every couple’s journey. We’re not interested in the act itself, more why the couple have decided to take their relationship to the next stage and how it might impact the rest of the group.”

Audiences seem to agree, suggesting that we’re becoming desensitised to nudity and sex on screen: the number of times Love Islanders lit up a cigarette drew more complaints than the number of times they acted out scenes of an adult nature.

Stavri also highlighted another reason why the show has resonated with audiences in 2017: “We don’t want it to feel dark or full of conflict. It’s got to be light-hearted, fun and relatable to the viewers at home. Because no matter how gorgeous those islanders are, they’re as vulnerable as we all are.” Could this aversion to conflict and celebration of vulnerability play a role in the show’s success? Maybe the simple escapism it offers is exactly what we all need at a time when the headlines are so grim.

Whatever its appeal, it is good news for ITV, which is now looking to sell the format to other markets as part of its strategy to become less reliant on acquired content.  With RTL in Germany launching its version of the show in September and several other deals reportedly on the table elsewhere, it looks like the Love Island craze is only just beginning.

If you’re one of the few who didn’t succumb this year and don’t want to feel left out, we’ve provided a handy guide on how to decode the Islanders’ lexicon (which also doubles as a Love Island Bingo drinking game if you’re that way inclined!):

  • Grafting: to work hard at getting the object of your affection to like you
  • Cracking on: a lovely way of expressing what could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship
  • Extra: to be extra means to be over the top, or take something too far
  • Melt: a word used to describe someone overly soppy or sentimental (i.e. anyone who doesn’t try to stick it on in the first five minutes of meeting – see below)
  • Stick it on: a level above cracking on, with slightly more purpose…
  • Muggy: if someone is being ‘muggy’, they’re trying to take you for a fool
  • Snakey: a word used to describe someone who’s deceitful and underhand and liable to mug you off
  • Pied off: being pied off is to get shot down/have the piss taken out of you, or be dumped/ditched – probably by someone snakey/muggy – see above
  • Salty: a confusing word – use it (with caution!) to describe someone who is anything from sexy and attractive, to aggressive and bitchy

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If you want to discuss the success of the Love Island format in more detail, or join us for a session of Love Island Bingo, please get in touch.

About Claire Moon

Claire is an Associate Director at MTM, working in the quantitative team. Inspired by a passion for understanding behaviour, she helps some of the biggest brands in the media and technology sector to connect with people in new and exciting ways.