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Reality Binds: In the UK, a Commercial TV company finds value in Reality TV Recap Pods

It’s safe to say that major broadcasters in Britain were pretty slow to get involved with podcasting. I’ve written about this a fair bit before, mostly in relation to the BBC, but it’s easily applicable to the UK’s major private media entities, like ITV and Channel 4. The former, though, appears to have broken through on the audio front over the past 12 months, and it’s becoming a worthwhile case study of how commercial and independent podcasting is developing within a UK market that’s been broadly dominated by a major publicly funded radio network.

A primer, for the unfamiliar: ITV is the predominantly commercial television network that was originally created in the 1950s to directly compete with the BBC. Its various regional franchises were held by different companies over the decades, which eventually merged over the decades to become what is now a multimedia conglomerate called ITV plc. The network carries advertising throughout, but also fulfils some public service obligations such as religion-oriented programming, news, and sign-language accessible broadcasts. Because of these public service elements, ITV is free to watch everywhere. As a content creator, the organization produces a steady trickle of television hits — some of the most high profile British drama exports, like Downton Abbey (!) and Broadchurch, came from the braintrust at ITV.

Crucially, though, ITV is also the broadcaster of Love Island, a hugely popular limited series reality show best described to those non-watchers as “Jersey Shore, but if it involved a dozen British strangers on an island.” The reality show is also an important entry point for the network into on-demand audio, because its recap podcast, Love Island: The Morning After, which was tested out last year, proved to be such a success that ITV felt compelled to increase its activities in the audio space ever since.

Since Love Island is on TV six nights a week — with a best of compilation airing on Saturday evenings — the show involves an intense burst of production for the recap podcast, which is set to publish around 50 episodes, averaging between 20 and 40 minutes, over the show’s eight-week run. The case for episode-by-episode TV recap podcasts has long been proven, but The Morning After seems to work especially well because it sits at the intersection of old-fashioned water cooler culture, the always-on world of celebrity Instagram Stories, and a seemingly unquenchable British thirst for summer “banter.” It’s hosted by the 2017 series winner Kem Cetinay (a self identifying “cheeky chappy”) and pre-existing ITV presenter Arielle Free. Past contestants, influencers, and high profile fans make up a rotating cast of guests.

Last year, it felt like almost every audio industry person I spoke to here in the UK wanted to talk about the surprise success of this show. I was told by Acast, which serves as the hosting platform, that the show has racked up over 3.5 million downloads over its two-month run, and that it had even scored a heavyweight brand advertiser in the cereal giant Kellogg’s, making it a worthwhile production both as a way of bringing more viewers to the TV show and as its own commercial entity.

Also, since so much of Love Island fandom notoriously lives on Instagram — the contestants’ accounts are prone to explode in popularity over the course of the series, and some openly take part in the show in order that they can have an influencer career afterwards [Nick’s Note: which is not unlike the Bachelor universe, by the way] — the podcast is also a rare one that I know of which drew a fair proportion of its listenership from that very image-led social network. To capitalize on this dynamic, ITV’s social media team uses platform smart links in the brand’s Instagram Stories to drive new listeners, and I’m told saw brilliant conversion from it.

The podcast has returned with the latest season of Love Island, which is already well under way, and it has consistently stayed within the top three of the UK Apple Podcasts chart. It now features a new sponsor in Uber Eats, but the composition of the show has otherwise appeared to remain the same, at least in terms of format and strategy.

ITV has also expressed intent to dig deeper with audio. Last month, they announced a two-year deal with the commercial radio group Global as part of a bigger push into audio. This tie up involves promotion for ITV’s podcasts on Global’s radio stations, such as Capital and Heart, plus inclusion of The Morning After and forthcoming shows (such as one based around the 2019 Rugby World Cup this autumn) in Global’s proprietary app, Global Player. Finally, it involves a commercial relationship with Global’s advertising arm DAX, which provides ad injection.

This partnership between two giants of the commercial broadcasting world – one TV, one radio — strikes me as exceedingly interesting. Despite the growth of streaming and the dominance of the BBC, they both do still command millions-strong audiences in lots of areas, and it makes absolute sense to bring the two things together as a kind of commercial airwaves alliance. While we wait for details about how the BBC’s anticipated opening up of their BBC Sounds app to podcasts from other providers, perhaps an alternative audio powerbase is emerging with this Global-ITV axis. One thing that’s certain, though, is that the Love Island podcast has well and truly convinced ITV of the efficacy of on-demand as a way of augmenting its television offerings.