This week’s post covers the UK’s highest-rated documentary and unscripted programs for the year in which COVID struck.
My ratings snapshot for 2020 is comprised of:
- The Top 50 in the combined Documentary and Lifestyle / Hobbies categories.
- My Takeaways.
- Then #51-100.
The challenging landscape
The wonderfully inventive UK Factual industry is enduring the triple disruptions of:
- COVID, bringing a drop in ad revenues and disruptions to the production pipeline.
- The meteoric rise of Netflix with its $17-20 billion to spend on all genres worldwide, plus competition from other streaming platforms.
- And a reactionary government that is deeply hostile to the BBC.
For the broadcasters, this dramatic shift translates into a shrinking and ageing audience, senior executive turnover, and waves of budget cuts.
I’m watching closely to see if this pressure cooker of negativity:
- Drains the creative energy out of the UK broadcast community, OR
- Inspire wonderful new ideas for singles, series and formats, as in past decades.
Scroll down for the Top 50…
Notes on the Data
- The ‘000 P4+’ column refers to viewers 4 years and older in thousands.
- Share refers to the program’s share of television sets in use at that time.
- The data refers to highest single episode in a series.
- The categories come from BARB, and titles are sometimes incomplete.
- Ratings for Netflix and other streamers are not available.
UK Broadcast Audience
Documentary & Hobbies Category
Top 50 2020
|1||BBC 1||Antiques Roadshow||7,846||29.0|
|2||BBC 1||The Repair Shop||6,885||28.9|
|4||ITV||Bradley Walsh & Son: Breaking Dad||5,799||27.0|
|5||BBC 1||Top Gear||5,770||26.7|
|6||ITV||Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace||5,657||24.6|
|7||BBC 1||Who Do You Think You Are?||5,274||23.1|
|9||ITV||Anne: The Princess Royal at 70||4,904||23.9|
|10||ITV||Bradley Walsh: Happy 60th Birthday||4,848||20.6|
|11||ITV||The Real ‘Des’: The Dennis Nilsen Story||4,735||24.1|
|12||ITV||Welcome to HMP Belmarsh with Ross Kemp||4,457||18.3|
|13||BBC 1||Extinction: The Facts||4,374||22.4|
|14||ITV||The Virtual Grand National||4,280||27.4|
|15||BBC 1||Dame Vera Lynn: We’ll Meet Again||4,256||25.5|
|17||BBC 1||Garden Rescue||4,190||21.5|
|18||BBC 2||Inside Monaco: Playground of the Rich||4,178||17.8|
|19||BBC 1||DIY SOS||4,160||19.9|
|20||BBC 1||Planet Earth: A Celebration||4,109||21.7|
|21||BBC 1||Eat Well for Less?||4,029||18.7|
|22||BBC 1||Blue Planet Revisited||3,942||23.2|
|23||BBC 1||Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexican Border||3,913||18.6|
|24||BBC 1||Reported Missing||3,872||20.8|
|25||ITV||Cilla: The Lost Tapes||3,844||17.7|
|26||CH4||24 Hours in Police Custody||3,824||14.6|
|27||BBC 2||A House Through Time||3,816||17.5|
|28||ITV||Absolutely India: Mancs in Mumbai||3,807||17.0|
|29||ITV||Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs||3,801||17.7|
|30||BBC 2||Gardeners’ World||3,798||16.1|
|31||ITV||Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport||3,774||19.2|
|32||ITV||Paul O’Grady’s Great British Escape||3,751||17.3|
|33||ITV||The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess||3,749||16.0|
|34||ITV||Paul O’Grady for the Love of Dogs||3,679||19.6|
|35||BBC 2||Cornwall with Simon Reeve||3,565||14.5|
|36||ITV||Long Lost Family: What Happened Next||3,546||15.4|
|37||BBC 1||A Tribute to Dame Vera Lynn||3,522||19.9|
|38||Channel 5||Our Yorkshire Farm||3,507||17.6|
|39||ITV||The Greek Islands with Julia Bradbury||3,501||16.9|
|40||ITV||Long Lost Family Born Without a Trace||3,497||17.6|
|41||CH4||Escape to the Chateau||3,440||17.4|
|42||ITV||Rose West, Myra Hindley: Their Untold Story||3,431||16.2|
|43||CH4||Murder in the Outback||3,421||16.6|
|44||ITV||Prince William: A Planet for Us All||3,418||18.0|
|45||BBC 1||My Family, The Holocaust and Me||3,413||14.9|
|46||BBC 1||True North||3,382||17.0|
|47||ITV||Madeleine McCann: The Hunt for the Prime Suspect||3,363||18.0|
|48||ITV||Joanna Lumley’s Hidden Caribbean: Havana to Haiti||3,341||14.7|
|49||BBC 1||Easy Ways to Live Well||3,326||15.7|
|50||ITV||Britain’s Best Walks with Julia Bradbury||3,325||19.3|
Land & Country
- The hit breakthrough of the COVID year is the folksy, sentimental Repair Shop (#2) in which damaged family treasures are brought back to life by accomplished craftspeople.
- The series is led by the relatable and expert host, furniture restorer Jay Blades.
- Antiques Roadshow returns to #1, and Countryfile rides at #3 — a trifecta that confirms the British audience’s appetite for nostalgia in a hard time.
- The Channel 5 hit Our Yorkshire Farm (#38) is one of many British nostalgia and rustic travel shows found further down the list.
Natural History / Pets
- The Natural History genre is led by David Attenborough’s challenging Extinction The Hard Facts (#13).
- Otherwise the genre relies mainly on visits to the archive (Primates, #16), and to strong franchises, notably Blue Planet Revisited (#22), Springwatch (#62) and Spy in the Wild (#73.)
- ITV’s long-running Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs (#29) leads in the Pets category.
- A House Through Time (#27) is a standout for BBC2, and ticks the “homey” COVID mood of the year.
- Another History notable at #69 is Captain Tom’s War. I was saddened to read today that this inspiring hero had passed away of COVID complications at 100.
- Darker stories from the past are less prominent.
Talent Tops Crime
- Great British crimes and criminals are on the list, but are less present than in previous years: There’s enough dark and edgy outside already.
- The Top 50 is more populated with comfortable and often loveable talent of today and yesterday.
- See: Bradley Walsh, Cilla, Vera Lynn, Attenborough, Paul O’Grady, Nigella, and many more.
- Crime meets Talent in Welcome to HMP Belmarsh (#12), where the relatable Ross Kemp leads us inside a notorious maximum security prison.
- C4’s Murder in the Outback (#43) somewhat bucks the trend by delivering death in an exotic destination.
- The Windsor family becomes more present as the year progresses, maybe because HRH Andrew‘s troubles faded a bit
- There were fewer royal births, baptisms, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and funerals that could be covered in COVID.
- That said, Princess Anne’s 70th Birthday ranks #9 (who knew so many cared!).
- The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess (#33) received a boost from The Crown / Diana In Her Own Words on Netflix.
- Prince William follows the Attenborough path in A Planet For Us All (#44), and tests a football / mental health genre blend (#97).
- The pandemic makes rare appearances on the list (Surviving The Virus: My brother and Me #77), perhaps because Britain’s COVID tragedy is well-covered by Current Affairs producers.
- Looking outside the Factual category, The Queen’s Covid Address attracted more than 14 million viewers and an astounding 45.8 share.
Those are my Takeaways for the moment. I glossed over so much. LMK if you disagree.
Final thought: Tens of thousands of new and repeated Factual programs are offered to UK viewers each year. Making it to the Top 100 is no mean feat!
Here are #51-100:
UK Broadcast Audience
Documentary & Hobbies Category
Top 51-100 1H 2020
|52||BBC 1||Sir David Jason at 80||3,293||20.3|
|53||ITV||Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King||3,178||14.1|
|54||ITV||St David’s: Britain’s Smallest City||3,170||12.2|
|55||BBC 2||Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat||3,165||15.3|
|56||ITV||Love Your Garden||3,164||15.8|
|57||BBC 1||RHS Chelsea Flower Show||3,157||21.8|
|58||BBC 2||Inside the Factory||3,146||13.0|
|60||BBC 1||Idris Elba Meets Paul McCartney||3,121||18.0|
|61||ITV||John Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue||3,115||14.3|
|63||ITV||Griff’s Great Australian Adventure||2,969||15.4|
|64||CH4||Lose a Stone in 21 Days with Michael Mosley||2,953||14.1|
|65||BBC 1||Our Lives||2,948||15.0|
|66||ITV||Grow Your Own at Home with Alan Titchmarsh||2,945||15.2|
|67||BBC 2||Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing||2,943||12.5|
|68||ITV||Manhunt: the Raoul Moat Story||2,909||13.1|
|69||ITV||Captain Tom’s War||2,876||14.4|
|70||BBC 1||The Truth About…||2,870||15.5|
|71||ITV||Joanna Lumley’s Unseen Adventures||2,869||13.5|
|72||BBC 1||Rio and Kate: Becoming a Stepfamily||2,868||12.8|
|73||BBC 1||Spy in the Wild||2,862||11.3|
|74||ITV||Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime||2,857||13.0|
|75||ITV||The Millennium Dome Heist with Ross Kemp||2,831||12.8|
|76||ITV||Des O’Connor: The Ultimate Entertainer||2,828||13.8|
|77||BBC 1||Surviving the Virus: My Brother & Me||2,827||13.6|
|78||BBC 1||Blue Planet II||2,814||18.2|
|79||BBC 2||Murder 24/7||2,808||10.8|
|81||ITV||Death Row’s Women with Susanna Reid||2,793||13.3|
|82||ITV||For the Love of Britain||2,732||14.8|
|83||ITV||Britain’s Busiest Motorway||2,709||14.2|
|84||CH4||Barrymore: The Body in the Pool||2,708||14.0|
|85||BBC 1||Bargain Hunt||2,695||29.1|
|86||ITV||Ross Kemp: On the NH5 Frontline||2,665||12.6|
|87||ITV||Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals||2,659||10.5|
|88||CH4||24 Hours in the A&E||2,653||12.2|
|89||ITV||Long Lost Family||2,623||12.9|
|90||ITV||Rock on, Tommy: The Bobby Ball Story||2,612||14.0|
|91||ITV||The Metro: A Rail Life Story||2,612||13.9|
|92||ITV||The Station: Trouble on the Tracks||2,606||11.7|
|93||BBC 2||Back in Time for the Corner Shop||2,600||12.7|
|95||CH4||Devon and Cornwall||2,552||12.5|
|96||ITV||Ross Kemp: Living with…||2,548||14.3|
|97||BBC 1||Football, Prince William and Our Mental Health||2,509||14.7|
|98||ITV||London Zoo: An Extraordinary Year||2,505||12.8|
|99||CH4||Location, Location, Location||2,503||10.7|
|100||Channel 5||The Great Plague||2,482||8.8|
- My survey of how David Attenborough crushed the UK audience highlights over 10 years
- For 1H 2020:
- Don’t miss my interview notes with BBC History buyer Simon Young at Sunny Side. Includes his insights concerning A House Through Time.