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UK Factual Hits: The Sizzling Sixty for 2015

2016 January 29
by Peter Hamilton

Publishing the ‘Best UK Factual’ each January makes me wish for just a moment that I had left Melbourne in 1981 for an up-and-coming Brit ‘hood like Glasgow instead of Brooklyn.

Maybe not quite so much this year. Let’s see why.

Bake Off

  • The Great British Bake Off was a huge, super-hit with more than 15 million viewers.
  • It was a wonderful, tearful television moment when Nadiya, a Bangladeshi Briton won the big prize.
  • In its sixth season, Bake Off has worked all the margins of its format, particularly casting, to deliver something that is uniquely and positively ‘contemporary British’.

bakeoff

Here’s the Sizzling Sixty:

Programme Rating ‘000
1 BBC 1 THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF 25.9 15,055
2 BBC 1 THE APPRENTICE 13.6 7,926
3 BBC 1 COUNTRYFILE 13.5 7,844
4 BBC 1 DIY SOS: THE BIG BUILD 13.4 7,771
5 BBC 1 MASTERCHEF 11.9 6,952
6 BBC 2 TOP GEAR 11.9 6,921
7 BBC 1 EASTENDERS: BACKSTAGE LIVE 11.7 6,849
8 BBC 1 ANTIQUES ROADSHOW 11.7 6,813
9 BBC 1 CELEBRITY MASTERCHEF 10.6 6,171
10 BBC 1 BRITAIN’S SPENDING SECRETS 10.3 6,024
11 CH4 GOGGLEBOX 10.1 5,871
12 BBC 1 THE HUNT 10.0 5,801
13 BBC 1 PETER KAY: 20 YEARS OF FUNNY 9.5 5,536
14 ITV THE MAFIA WITH TREVOR MCDONALD 9.5 5,529
15 BBC 1 EAT WELL FOR LESS? 9.2 5,365
16 BBC 1 BIG BLUE LIVE 9.2 5,329
17 BBC 1 FAKE OR FORTUNE? 9.0 5,214
18 BBC 1 WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? 8.8 5,136
19 ITV PAUL O’GRADY: FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS 8.7 5,058
20 ITV LONG LOST FAMILY 8.6 4,994
21 ITV J. LUMLEY’S TRANS-SIBERIAN ADVENTURE 8.6 4,976
22 BBC 1 EARTH’S NATURAL WONDERS 8.4 4,882
23 BBC 1 ROME’S INVISIBLE CITY 8.3 4,820
24 BBC 1 KOLKATA WITH SUE PERKINS 8.0 4,667
25 ITV LAS VEGAS W TREVOR MCDONALD 7.9 4,609
26 BBC 1 THE TRUTH ABOUT CALORIES 7.8 4,560
27 BBC 1 GREAT BARRIER REEF / ATTENBOROUGH 7.8 4,510
28 BBC 1 PETS: WILD AT HEART 7.6 4,423
29 BBC 1 SECRET BRITAIN 7.4 4,320
30 BBC 1 ANIMALS IN LOVE 7.3 4,245
31 BBC 1 SUPER CUTE ANIMALS 7.2 4,230
32 BBC 1 SNOW CHICK: A PENGUIN’S TALE 7.2 4,215
33 BBC 1 ECLIPSE LIVE: A STARGAZING SPECIAL 7.2 4,210
34 BBC 1 THE MET: POLICING LONDON 7.2 4,175
35 BBC 1 24 HOURS IN THE PAST 7.1 4,146
36 BBC 1 DAVID BECKHAM: LOVE OF THE GAME 7.1 4,138
37 BBC 1 THE RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW 6.9 3,997
38 BBC 1 SHARK 6.9 3,994
39 ITV 100 YEAR OLD DRIVERS RIDE AGAIN 6.8 3,958
40 CH4 GOGGLESPROGS 6.8 3,957
41 ITV RICHARD WILSON ON THE ROAD 6.7 3,925
42 BBC 1 THE GIFT 6.7 3,912
43 ITV CAR CRASH BRITAIN 6.7 3,912
44 ITV JOANNA LUMLEY – ELVIS AND ME 6.7 3,905
45 ITV LOVE YOUR GARDEN 6.4 3,717
46 ITV PAUL O’GRADY’S ANIMAL ORPHANS 6.4 3,713
47 CH5 CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER 6.4 3,709
48 ITV TALES FROM NORTHUMBERLAND 6.3 3,701
49 BBC 1 EAT WELL FOR LESS AT CHRISTMAS? 6.3 3,673
50 ITV ROOKIES 6.3 3,664
51 BBC 2 DRAGONS’ DEN 6.2 3,614
52 BBC 2 THE GREAT BRITISH SEWING BEE 6.2 3,611
53 BBC 1 CLASS OF 92: OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE 6.2 3,604
54 CH4 THE ISLAND WITH BEAR GRYLLS: WOMEN 6.1 3,577
55 CH4 THE SECRET LIFE OF 4 YEAR OLDS 6.1 3,538
56 BBC 1 ALL CHANGE AT LONGLEAT 6.1 3,530
57 BBC 2 BACK IN TIME FOR DINNER 6.0 3,523
58 BBC 1 CUE THE QUEEN: CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS 6.0 3,504
59 BBC 2 WE’RE DOOMED! THE DAD’S ARMY STORY 6.0 3,488
60 CH4 BENEFITS STREET 6.0 3,467

 

Nothing New?

  • Britain has been the engine of creativity in factual TV for decades.
  • But there’s nothing particularly original and captivating that I can see in this year’s list.
  • Most of the Top 10 shows have been hits for years, if not decades.

 Plain Old!

  • There’s an old-rocking-chair vibe about British factual television right now.
  • Even the hosts are getting on: Mary Berry (b. 1935), Richard Wilson (b. 1936), Paul O’grady (b. 1955), and the venerable David Attenborough (b. 1926).

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History

  • History wasn’t a star genre: Rome’s Invisible City topped at #23.
  • Popular, History-themed entertainments held on, notably Who Do You Think You Are.
  • Takeaway? No royal anniversary or wedding: No History hits.

Blue Chip Natural History

Popular Animals

  • Pets: Wild At Heart (#28) deserved its 4.4 million viewers.
    • The BBC Natural History Unit producers turned their classic field cinematography kit onto domestic animals.
    • I saw the clip below at Sunny Side of the Doc, and loved how the thrifty  producers created a wonderful story out of a pet hamster’s wanderings.
    • Clip: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02hpmfs

penguin

  • Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale(#32) was close behind with 4.4 million viewers.
    • It added the vulnerability of the hatchling to previous BBC-NHU  Penguin hits.
  • The other popular animal-themed programs in our list are ITV’s Paul O’grady: For the Love of Dogs (#19), Animals in Love (#30) and Super Cute Animals (#31).

What Did I Miss?

  • One show I didn’t see but would enjoy is C4’s Secret Lives of Four Year Olds from Zodiak/RDF (3.5 mn).
  • It’s nice that UK viewers are attracted to the Dad’s Army generation like Attenborough, and the very young.

Compared with US

  • The ratings are huge compared with U.S. audiences for comparable programs.
  • Many of these successful UK categories are extinct in the equivalent U.S. Top 50.
  • But the avalanche of Reality series that buried so much quality Factual has lost its momentum.
    • It’s been years since A&E’s awful Duck Dynasty was the last breakout Reality series.
    • The genre has grown stale, leading to eroding ratings for non-fiction channels like History, although Discovery is enjoying an upswing.
  • The good news is that the leading U.S. factual channels are committed to restoring their brands by presenting quality documentaries.
  • We’re hopeful. And watching closely!

Big Takeaway: VOD – What’s After Murderer?

  • VOD and binge-viewing has grabbed the zeitgeist.
  • Judging by the feedback from my readers and clients, the big story for 2015 was the 10-episode Netflix documentary Making a Murderer.
  • Stephen Avery seized the chatter at year end, proving that the model of SVOD-delivered Scripted series can also create binge-viewed Factual hits.
    • Amazon and Netflix are proving a global content model.
    • The BBC, Discovery, Nat Geo and others are following similar strategies, though each with their own legacies and constraints.
  • The rise of VOD will accelerate as Netflix, Amazon and others spend their billions on original series for their global VOD footprints.

More Reading

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