The strength and quality of British exports means that, wherever you are, television may look familiar, reports Jane Watkins
British TV translates, says Jane Watkins
ON a recent holiday in Norway, we flipped through the channels on the hotel TV to find something to while away an hour or so. Our language skills not much being up to the challenge, we worried whether we would find something we could understand. We needn’t have worried: two separate channels were showing repeats of Midsomer Murders in English with Norwegian subtitles. Every night at 9pm. Not only did my Norwegian grow, but so did my appreciation for how widely British television travels.
In 2014/15, television exports brought £1.207 billion into the economy, down slightly from a high of £1.284 billion in 2013/14 from both the sale of television shows and the sale of formats of hits such as The Great British Bake Off (sold to countries such as Austria, Poland, Belgium, Ireland, Denmark and the USA), Come Dine With Me (36 territories, including India and Serbia) and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (107 territories, including Algeria, Indonesia, San Marino and Equador).
I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see Midsomer in Norway as it’s a hit in more than 225 territories around the world, espcially in Scandinavia. For the show’s 100th episode, the story was partly filmed in Denmark and featured cameos from The Killing’s Marie Askehave and Nicolaj Kopernikus and Borgen’s Birgitte Hjort Sørensen. According to the series’s star Neil Dudgeon: ‘Ann Eleanora Jørgensen—who played the mother in series one of The Killing— said when she told her family “I’m doing this thing called The Killing,” nobody was very interested. As soon as she said “I’m doing an episode of Midsomer Murders”, they begged her “Can you get us pictures?”.’
He adds: ‘In a population of just 5.5 million, they’ve sold about four million Midsomer DVDS. Something like 80% of households have at least one DVD and it airs in a primetime Saturdaynight slot.’ It’s ruled this slot for the series’s entire run, with an enviable 30%– 40% share of the audience. All this means that Denmark is the third biggest territory for British exports after the USA and Sweden, with Germany and Norway completing the top five.
However, a burgeoning middle class is driving sales to China (up 90%), India (up 42%) Mexico (up 46%) and Brazil (up 30%). Sales to Sub- Saharan Africa are up more than a third thanks to improved infrastructure.
But what are the biggest hits worldwide? Unsurprisingly, Sher- lock does enormously well, especially in Russia and China —when the third season was streamed on Youku.com, it got five million hits in 24 hours and 72 million hits so far. Peppa Pig has been sold to 170 territories and is on course to make £1 billion. Heartbeat is still hugely popular in Finland and Downton Abbey has been sold to 250 territories, garnering more than 160 million viewers.
Although America has been known for the quality of its dramas in recent years, it can’t
touch us for our factual and factual entertainment programmes. Top Gear is the most watched factual programme in the world, with a global audience of more than 350 million. Generally, when a territory buys a show, it remakes it using local presenters and elements, but, with Top Gear, it was the original that was bought and aired. It’s too early to say how the revamp will affect sales.
However, if you look at the number of occasions on which a programme is sold, Top Gear’s 282—including to Albania, China, Iceland and Iran—puts it way down the race. The first series of the rebooted Doctor Who, with Christopher Eccleston, did rather better with 629 occasions (although the show hasn’t been a hit in Finland, Turkey is the fourth biggest audience in the world for Doctor Who).
But can you guess what’s number one? Life of Mammals? No, but its 958 occasions make it a very respectable second.at number one, with 992 sales, including recent purchases by Bulgaria, Latvia and Denmark, the BBC comedy Keeping Up Appearances is a surprising runaway champ. No wonder the BBC has high hopes for Young Hyacinth, which follows the future Mrs Bucket’s misadventures as a teenager in the late 1950s. Written by the show’s creator Roy Clarke, the one-off will be shown later in the summer as part of a season celebrating British comedy.
Anyone worrying about how effectively our shows can crack the biggest market in the world need only look at the recently announced Emmy nominations. British actors, actors, writers and shows all feature prominently, with recognition for The Night Manager (for the show and for Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman), Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (including Benedict Cumberbatch) and Luther (including Idris Elba). Acting nominations also go to Matthew Rhys, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams and Dame Maggie Smith. Downton Abbey’s final season is nominated for outstanding drama series and Julian Fellows has been recognised for his writing.
So next time you’re away, switch on the television—it might look more familiar than you were expecting.
Will the team changes affect Top Gear’s position as the most watched factual series in the world?
match the continuing global success of the original Keeping Up Appearances ( left)?
Can Young Hyacinth (to be shown this summer) ( right)
Move over Wallander: Midsomer Murders kills its noir competition stone dead in Scandinavia