Measuring the success of British TV exports

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We look at which British shows and formats have made the leap abroad to become our finest TV exports in recent years…

Despite the success of platforms like Netflix and imported TV shows from the US, the UK still punches above its weight when it comes to exporting TV shows and formats across the world.

But which are the most successful? According to research carried out by Betway Casino, it’s not all period dramas designed to appeal to Americans who still think Brits live in a bygone age. Sure, Downton Abbey has done well, but so too have documentaries like Planet Earth and sci-fi dramas like His Dark Materials and Doctor Who. Indeed, UK TV exports made a staggering £1.48 billion ($1.97 billion) worldwide in 2020.

What’s more, it’s not just English-speaking countries like the US and Canada who like our programmes, it’s audiences right across the world. For example, stats show France is the biggest non English-speaking market generating £102 million in revenue, followed by the Nordic market which spends a respectable £77 million on British exports.

Even the Latin American and Asian markets have increased their spending on UK TV content by 13 and 15 per cent respectively, in part because of the rise of local streaming services such as Brazil’s GloboPay and Bilibili in China.

Winning format

Perhaps not surprisingly top of the earnings list is the BBC’s Top Gear. It generates a whopping £50 million a year from 214 territories and has a global audience of around 350 million. But it’s not alone. As well as actual home-grown TV shows that have proved successful, Brits have also hit gold exporting their TV formats for adaptation.

So, for example, The Great British Bake Off has been licensed to 26 markets, from the US and Denmark to Italy and France – or Le Meilleur Patissier as it’s known on the other side of the channel. Who would have thought twenty years ago that Britain, not exactly famed for its cuisine, would be exporting cookery programmes to our French neighbours!

Then there’s Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing with the Stars as it’s known in the US which has screened an incredible 270 seasons across 50 countries, reaching 500 million viewers worldwide. Indeed, some British adaptations have actually out-performed their British originals. For example, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? has simply taken the TV world by storm with more than 100 versions across the world, proving especially popular in the US – much more so than the Jeremy Clarkson reboot in the UK.


From Slough to Scranton, Pennsylvania

However, the most successful adaptation at least in recent years has to be the US version of The Office. Despite initially following a UK script, producers soon realised that transatlantic success lay in a more Americanised script. This eventually paved the way for nine seasons of the US show – five seasons longer than the British version. It was also apparently the most watched show on Netflix in 2020, accumulating 57 billion minutes of streaming. 

So what next for British TV exports? It seems more growth is extremely likely. Over the next five years the UK’s combined entertainment and media revenue is projected to rise from £71.3 billion in 2021 to £87.9 billion in 2025 and there’s a fair chance that exports will rise too.

Britain may be a small country, but when it comes to creativity and entertainment it seems we’ve got the winning formula that a lot of other countries enjoy.

 

 

Chris Price