TV Long View: CBS Looks for 'Love Island' Silver Linings

The network remains behind the show despite modest linear ratings, and is looking to non-traditional measures for signs of growth.
Colin Young-Wolff/CBS Entertainment
'Love Island'

It's an understatement to say that Love Island has not been a breakout this summer.

The American version of the British reality hit has drawn consistently mediocre ratings for CBS through its first three weeks. It's not for lack of visibility: The network mounted a big promotional push for the series. But in same-day Nielsen numbers, Love Island averaging a modest 0.5 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic and about 2.25 million viewers per night. The show's demo rating is tied for 19th among 23 unscripted shows on the Big Four broadcast networks that have aired this summer.

Delayed viewing hasn't helped all that much, with three days of catch-up adding 0.16 to the show's 18-49 rating and about 420,000 viewers — gains of 32 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

And yet, there's a non-zero chance CBS will give Love Island another shot next summer if its numbers can hang in or show any kind of growth over the remainder of its run.

The network has remained behind the show despite the soft ratings and stuck with airing it every weeknight. (In contrast, Fox's Paradise Hotel reboot earlier in the summer season was quietly scaled back from three nights per week to just one after it debuted to similarly soft ratings.)

"You know our regular numbers, and do we wish [Love Island's] were a little higher? Sure we do," CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told The Hollywood Reporter. "But we never underestimated how hard it was going to be to speak to an audience that, frankly, doesn't watch CBS on a regular basis. I think we feel like we're making progress in that area, and we'll see over this next week and a half how well we do."

CBS is also looking at numbers outside the top-line linear ratings to make a case for continuing the series — an unusual situation for a network that likes to tout its strength in traditional metrics.

"This is an audience we're chasing, primarily younger women, that CBS doesn't necessarily speak to on a regular basis, and an audience that doesn't watch linear TV a whole lot," said Kahl. "I think that's borne out in our streaming numbers. This is one of the strongest streaming shows we have already. It's become a huge performer on social, where a lot of nights it's trending. All the signs around the linear number are very, very good. The question for us is can we get the word out and eventually kick it up to the next level."

Love Island's average audience member is 55.4 years old, about eight years younger than the average for CBS as a whole. It's drawing respectable, if not great, numbers among younger women, averaging a 0.4 rating among women 18-34 and 0.6 with women 18-49.

Kahl also noted that the July 25 episode drew the most audience votes for the show to date, a sign that, as he put it, "the audience is learning how to play along."

Like the rest of the industry, CBS doesn't offer up specific streaming figures. The network does say, though, that Love Island is its most-streamed new primetime series of 2018-19, and that full-episode streams grew with each episode over the first two weeks. The number of day-one streams for episode 10 was twice that of the series premiere, per the network.

It's also worth mentioning that while it's a big hit now, the British Love Island didn't start that way. The first season in 2015 averaged just 570,000 viewers on ITV2 over its six-week run. It did show some growth after its first couple weeks, averaging 700,000 viewers for its final week and peaking at 910,000 for the finale. (That top show in the U.K. in 2015, The Great British Bake Off, averaged better than 12 million viewers.)

Season two more than doubled in viewers, and it's grown by at least a million viewers every season since in the U.K. The current season is averaging about 5.6 million viewers per night.

Kahl told THR he's "encouraged" that ratings for Love Island have been fairly steady opposite big franchises The Bachelorette and America's Got Talent: "That's telling us we have a very dedicated audience," he said. "We just need to expand that circle a little bit."

To that end, CBS-owned cable channel Pop TV will run a marathon of the season so far on Saturday in hopes of helping people catch up before the final two weeks.

"If we see any kind of tick up over the next week and a half," Kahl said, "I think we can feel really good about the prospects for the show going forward. … It's certainly a show that's very much in contention to come back next summer."