Discovery vs Nat Geo vs History. Race for UK Gold, Part 3. How Far Behind Broadcast? Plus: Our New Global Doc Buyers’ Guide

Here are my quick Takeaways before a summer getaway.

Business Model:

  • UK factual channels attract relatively small audiences compared with the broadcasters.
  • However: Advertisers are attracted to their relatively upscale viewers.
  • And the networks earn subscriber fees from Sky and other platforms.
  • On the cost side, all UK factual channels benefit from a business model that relies on imported US programs. These are mostly owned outright by the channels.
  • The big US franchise series and specials – like Deadliest Catch are by and large the top performers in the UK.
  • The UK channels also commission locally. Big, noisy American characters can’t dominate their schedules.
  • Nat Geo, Discovery and A+E have each set up a new pipeline for their international channels. They share costs for qualified new programs that will play across multiple territories.
  • They also create local and regional versions of a handful of hit US series.

I will cover these issues and developments in greater detail in the coming months.

Here are the top shows for the nonfiction channels versus the top-rated factual program for each broadcast channel.


And here are the average ratings with year-to-year changes:

Ratings (Average January 1 – June 26 0600-2600)
2011 2011 Share (%) 2012 2012 Share (%) Y-Y +/- Y-Y +/- (%)
1 Discovery 29,800 0.26 34,100 0.30   4,300              15.38
2 History 16,500 0.15 25,600 0.23   9,100              53.33
3 Nat Geo 18,800 0.17 17,300 0.15   -1,500              -11.76
4 C&IN 18,600 0.16 16,700 0.15   -1,900              -6.25

 

Discovery

  • Discovery UK launched 1st amongst American factual channel exports.
  • That was in 1988 when Clark Bunting led the Discovery team and, fresh from CBS International, I served as senior consultant.
  • The fairly consistent message we heard from UK ‘experts’ was “We Brits will never watch your (inferior) American programs.  And anyway you won’t make any money!”
  • Wrong:
    • Discovery International generates more than 40% of DCI’s revenues.
    • UK is the jewel in the crown.
    • And Discovery International gains importance by the day as Discovery Networks US recovers from the serious (half a $US billion!) opportunity costs associated with the OWN Oprah Winfrey Network debacle as well as the many challenges faced by Discovery Channel.
Top 10 Discovery UK Programs (2006-2012 YTD)
Title Date Viewers Share
1 Deadliest Catch 26-Oct-10 460,900 2.34
2 Gold Rush 22-May-12 430,600 1.69
3 My Shocking Story 15-Nov-07 390,400 1.92
4 Wheeler Dealers 11-Oct-11 378,000 1.45
5 American Choppers 16-Jan-06 284,500 1.46
6 Will Ferrell and Bear Grylls: Born Survivors 25-Jul-09 273,200 1.91
7 Killing Bin Laden 18-May-11 272,200 0.97
8 Alone in the Wild 5-Oct-11 253,900 0.95
9 Bear Grylls: Born Survivor 18-Jul-11 246,500 0.92
10 How It’s Made 23-Feb-06 245,400 1.31

 

History / A+E Networks

  • A+E Networks’ corporate parents napped for decades while Discovery invested heavily in going global.
  • History’s recent US hits are proving to be highly exportable. They are fueling a catch up in UK viewing versus Discovery.
  • The Kennedy’s – a scripted series that went pear-shaped in the US – is an international hit! That’s a big strategic message!
  • Crime & Investigation is a much stronger franchise in the UK than in US. It’s a reminder that there’s value in the content-driven, niche franchises.
Top 10 History UK Programs (2006-2012 YTD)
Title Date Viewers Share
1 Ice Road Truckers 2 16-Oct-08 389,100 1.86
2 The Kennedys 7-Apr-11 375,900 1.66
3 How Life Began 23-Mar-09 369,000 1.97
4 IRT – Deadliest Roads 16-Dec-10 345,100 1.58
5 Storage Wars 17-May-12 306,300 1.42
6 Pawn Stars 17-Oct-11 290,100 1.02
7 102 Minutes That Changed America 11-Sep-11 230,700 1.72
8 American Restoration (Series One) 1-Aug-11 222,700 0.84
9 American Pickers 24-Oct-11 222,000 1.03
10 The Lost JFK Tapes: The Assassination 3-Mar-11 194,100 1.00

 

Nat Geo

  • UK-centric Bloody Tales of the Tower is #1 in 2012, showing there’s value in local.
  • But the best performers on Nat Geo’s Top 10 list are the content-driven specials and series that are no longer the focus of Nat Geo US.
  • That foreshadows future struggles to align Nat Geo International’s yellow border legacy with the noisy characters coming from Washington.
Top 10 Nat Geo UK Programs (2006-2012 YTD)
Title Date Viewers Share
1 Engineering Connections 8-Sep-08 323,700 1.49
2 Area 51: I Was There 5-Jun-11 299,100 1.02
3 Gospel of Judas 9-Apr-06 276,700 1.52
4 9/11: Ten Years Later 7-Sep-11 213,600 0.90
5 Air Crash Investigation 14-Mar-11 213,200 0.73
6 Crash Scene Investigation 11-Apr-06 208,600 1.14
7 Bloody Tales of the Tower 16-Apr-12 196,400 0.78
8 Seconds From Disaster 19-Sep-06 179,200 1.02
9 In The Womb 21-Jan-07 168,900 0.78
10 Taboo 3-Aug-11 166,400 0.71

 

C&I is an A+E Network

Top 10 Crime & Investigation Network Programs (2006-2012 YTD)
Title Date Viewers Share
1 Curious and Unusual Deaths 18-May-12 206,300 2.74
2 Born to Kill 29-Jan-12 190,800 3.54
3 The Krays By Fred Dinenage 15-Mar-10 184,100 0.68
4 Crimes that Shook Britain 18-Mar-12 170,000 0.59
5 Myra Hindleys Prison Years 12-Jun-11 163,000 1.35
6 At Home with the Noonans 22-Apr-12 155,400 5.89
7 Girl Fight 7-Jun-12 154,900 1.79
8 Steven Seagal: Lawman 5-Jan-10 152,900 0.54
9 Crime Re-Licences 7-Jan-12 152,100 5.50
10 Fred Dinenage: Murder Casebook 15-May-11 151,300 0.54

 

Editorial assistance: Alexander Watson 

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