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Love is All Around

By Neil Maycock, Chief Marketing Officer, Grass Valley

We all recognize the value of premium live content — even more so now that every major global sport seems to be back in stadiums and arenas around the world. Whether it is the recent US Open tennis tournament, the 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards, or the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the big premium live event is the highlight of many a broadcast schedule, drawing together entire nations or even global audiences.

Yet away from the flagship events, there is a vibrant and growing strand of live and near-live entertainment content that is increasingly finding audiences via non-traditional consumption platforms. Through this programming, media companies are finding new ways to engage with often hard to reach demographic groups.

Programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars — which have recently launched their latest series in the UK and US — 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here…' and Love Island have become appointment TV for fans eager to follow the drama around who's good, who's bad, who's in, who's out and utimately who the big winner is. The success of these shows highlights the rising popularity of the 'reality' genre and the wider globalization of live entertainment content.

Equally impressive is the fact reality TV has branched into areas of live ancillary programming that spans over-the-top streaming and social media platforms. These live or 'as-live' content spin-off shows can be produced for relatively low-cost, increasingly using cloud production — and then distributed in innovative ways that promote audience engagement through social media and interactive elements such as audience voting.

Reality TV is not new — and nods to Big Brother and Survivor, which show that the format of live and as-live content has a heritage. But what is surprising is the growth in diversity and reach that reality shows can suddenly enjoy as the genre has evolved in the multidevice era — fuelled by active engagement through social platforms and highly connected fans wanting to interact across multiple media. TV, streaming and social activity now all work together as part of a broader brand engagement strategy.

Spreading the Love

To take the example of the UK version of Love Island, launched in 2006, when it generated just over 2 million views — half that of its then reality rival, Big Brother — and was considered a relative flop. However, according to ITV, by 2018 Love Island reached a peak audience of 3.3 million viewers across all devices — the biggest digital channel audience of the year. Love Island hit an average audience of 5.9 million for its 2020 series. This year, after a 16-month hiatus, the series returned to average 4 million per episode across all devices and was the most watched programme for 16 to 34 year olds across any channel for 44 nights straight. And it was a commercial hit, with advertisers being asked to stump up £100,000 per advert. The show's nine official sponsorship partners included a food delivery brand that was reported to be paying £5m for the privilege.

The TV audience is just a small part of an engagement story that extends to exclusive online content, social media posts of 'first look' previews ahead of TV airing, and memes shared via the show's official Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts. This activity is further amplified by polls, games, quizzes and a stream of notifications via the show's official app, including five-minute pre-show alerts — and recently, Love Island made its own app the only method through which the audience could cast votes on the show. What's more, according to Kantar Media's Social TV Ratings, Love Island became the most talked about TV series on Twitter by some distance in 2018, generating well over twice as many tweets as its closest rival. During its 2021 run, #loveisland trended on Twitter nightly, and its official Instagram account boasted 3 million followers and its Facebook page rose to nearly 1.5 million followers with over 1.3 million likes.

Although TV audiences are at the core of the Love Island brand, its customer engagement is truly multiplatform and highlights a significant trend for media and entertainment — a sector that was once ready to battle encroachment from the world of social media. What TV media brands airing these types of shows are clearly saying today is: 'If you can't beat 'em, then use 'em — gratuitously!' The result for Love Island is that, across all media, it is able to hit a demographic goldmine for advertisers with the bulk of the audience made up of the hard-to-reach 18 to 29 demographic.

Another, more production-centric realization is that visual content, even hours of rushes that were never originally aired, is a gift that keeps on giving. The potential to not just reuse content across multiple media, but also to repurpose it as material for interactive video games, web exclusives, social memes, or a hundred other uses cases within an incredibly efficient business model.

Long Distance Relationship

Another emerging trend is the use of remote production techniques and cloud-based media technologies to gain the flexibility required in today's media and entertainment market. In the case of Love Island USA, the 2020 version of the show pivoted to a remote footing to meet COVID social distancing requirements. Although the show was filmed and finished in several Las Vegas hotels, production was spread across Los Angeles, with loggers in Australia, technical consultants in the Philippines, and management teams in the UK. The production even used 300 remote editors via HP RGS (Remote Graphics Software) to access up to 1.5Pb of media hosted in Las Vegas via dedicated IP/fibre link to ensure the turnaround of the five-night-a-week show. Likewise, the 2021 edition of the show used an equally complex distributed production set-up that took in multiple shooting locations in Hawaii and production facilities in LA.

For Love Island USA to air, in a pandemic, with such high production quality for two years running is remarkable. And testament to the incredibly ingenuity of a combined team that included ITV America, Bexel/NEP Broadcast Services and The Switch, among others. Both productions pushed the envelope of what was technically feasible — while remaining COVID safe.

There are media companies across the world looking at the Love Island model and testing the waters with offerings that don't rely on securing rights to the next big sporting event. The reality is Love Island, it is simply the poster child for a seismic shift that is happening across the live and near-live space. Indeed, the media market is embracing not just new premium live entertainment shows but also technical innovation and a broader transformation that is seeing Grass Valley working with partners and customers worldwide to pioneer market-leading advances based on cloud and software efficiency. Whether for linear TV, streaming, or social media — or more likely all of the above — the time is right for live experimentation with cloud production platforms making it more easy, efficient and scalable than ever.