Love Island couldn’t have gone ahead in time of social distancing

Cancellation leaves summer TV schedules that bit duller for stay-at-home viewers

It's off. After flirting with a possible relocation from Majorca to Cornwall, then rejecting the idea, ITV has cancelled this summer's Love Island. Like a lot of highly popular things due to happen in 2020, the series has been displaced by Covid-19 and will now not return until 2021.

The decision is unsurprising. A group of attractive yet sometimes devious people falling in and out of lust in Cornwall as a dangerous illness threatens to upend their lives isn’t Love Island: it’s Poldark.

Yesterday, ITV director of television Kevin Lygo confirmed it was "just not possible" to produce Love Island in a manner that safeguards the wellbeing of all concerned. He had also earlier indicated it might not be an appropriate "signal" to broadcast a show about strangers hanging out together in close quarters given its young viewers would likely still be observing social distancing.

Some of Love Island’s financial firepower would have been dimmed even if producers had found a way to go ahead. ITV’s show “partners” in 2019 included a travel company and a suncream brand, two categories of advertiser that must surely have cut right back on their budget this year. And even its biggest fans would admit that Love Island is, well, a frivolous affair: tonally, it risked being out-of-step with a public still digesting the tragedy of the pandemic.

Young audience

Both ITV and the Irish broadcaster that imports the series, Virgin Media Television, will miss it. There aren't too many programmes that regularly draw a large number of young audience to linear television channels, but the summer version of Love Island is one of them. On top of stellar live ratings, Virgin also recorded more than 12 million on-demand streams of the show in 2019.

So its postponement is one less bright spot in what is set to be one dull summer for television schedules devoid of their usual sporting stalwarts. Speaking last month as he announced his July departure from the role, Virgin Media Television managing director Pat Kiely was eyeing the bounceback, however.

If key events such as the completion of the Six Nations and the climax of the Champions League were permitted to go ahead before the end of 2020, the broadcaster would be in line for "one hell of an autumn schedule".

We can but hope.

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