EXCLUSIVE: ITV Studios was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out 230 of its shows and slashed profits by 43% to £152 million ($212M). But Maarten Meijs, the president of ITV Studios’ global entertainment division, is looking on the bright side and said the crisis has brought with it “silver linings.”
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s certainly the approach ITV Studios’ UK entertainment team took last year when they moved hit entertainment show I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! from Australia to a derelict castle in Wales. It resulted in some of the best ratings in the show’s 19-year history on ITV, as stars wrestled with the extremities of British winter, rather than the critter-riddled steam box that is the Aussie outback.
Such was the success of the so-called “castle version,” Meijs said that international buyers made their interest known and ITV Studios is now on the brink of creating an I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! turnkey castle production hub in Poland. The company has identified a real castle in the Eastern European country that can be used as a permanent home for the show, and it is now waiting on the imminent green light from two unidentified international partners before the set is built.
“We are taking all the learnings from the 20th season of I’m A Celebrity… in the UK and, in effect, creating new spin-off. That has rejuvenated the brand and there is interest from multiple parties in both versions,” Meijs said. “We are waiting for two productions in order to build it.”
I’m A Celebrity… is one of ITV Studios’ most important brands and has been produced in 10 territories, including Australia, Denmark, Germany, India, and Sweden. The format broadcast in the U.S. on ABC in 2003 and NBC in 2009, but neither network renewed the show, in which stars are dropped in a remote jungle and win food for their camp by taking on Bushtucker Trials.
The UK version is hosted by beloved presenting duo Ant and Dec. ITV is hoping to take the show back to Australia this year, travel restrictions permitting, but ITV CEO Carolyn McCall told press on Tuesday that Gwrych Castle in Wales is a helpful contingency plan. “If we can go back to Australia — and this show is meant to be in Australia — then that’s what we’ll do. We have a very good plan if not,” she said.
Meijs described the renewed international interest in I’m A Celebrity… as the “silver lining” of the pandemic, adding that international versions of Love Island have also been transformed for the better because of coronavirus. ITV Studios has built a Love Island production hub in Gran Canaria, a Spanish island off the coast of Africa. The Dutch version of the show is filmed at the production hub, while Norway and Italy are set to follow.
The idea is that there is one villa location, where producers have honed coronavirus safety protocols and built trusted connections with local hotels and transportation firms in order to protect production bubbles. “By doing that we can live with the production protocols that have been set up, but also protect our cost of production and the additional cost that Covid brings, which is important to clients,” Meijs added. “The climate is also an important element, and Gran Canaria ticks a lot of boxes as you can go on holiday there almost year-round.”
Meijs would not be drawn, however, on whether the UK version could be produced at the hub. ITV is assessing its options for the reality show and has reportedly scoped out alternative locations to Mallorca, such as the island of Jersey, which is off the coast of France. “The ‘where’ question is definitely one they are working on,” said Meijs.