UK Factual Hits: Behind the Success of the #2-rated Series ‘Countryfile’

Our survey of the Top 50 UK Factual provoked lots of feedback. The #2 hit in our list is the very British Countryfile, which launched its 2nd quarter-century with a guest appearance by HRH the Prince of Wales.  Executive Editor Bill Lyons contributed his takeaways on Countryfile‘s success….

By Bill Lyons, Executive Editor, Countryfile

Hi Peter

I read with interest your excellent piece of Nov 11th about the UK’s Top 50 Factual Programmes, but with respect I think you’re missing the real story.

Of course you’re right to single out “Africa” (at #1) and “The Apprentice: The Final” (at #3), but these are exceptional efforts from high budget, stand-alone, productions that achieve their impact from creating an “event” based on trailers and pre-publicity.

But what is remarkable is the week-in-week-out performance of Countryfile, sitting between them at #2.

CountryFile-HRH-59

With HRH the Prince of Wales, who joined us as “guest editor” earlier this year to celebrate the series 25th anniversary: (L to R) Matt Baker, John Craven, Prince Charles, Julia Bradbury, Adam Henson.

Countryfile is a 52 week a year production (52×60) with minimal publicity surrounding it, but its performance is phenomenal, as witnessed by the 7.7 Million viewers for this particular episode, whose share – 32.9% – is by some measure way ahead of everything else in the list, including “Africa”.

So the real story – the real question – is what makes Countryfile special?

And the answer, I believe, is that as the BBC’s leading rural affairs series it taps into the sensibility of the British and their connection with the British landscape in a most potent way.

Countryfile may be a phenomenon, but it’s not a flash-in-the-pan. It began 25 years ago in a Sunday lunch-time factual slot aimed largely at the farming community. In 2009 the then Controller of BBC One, Jay Hunt, (now Chief Creative Officer of Channel Four) had the foresight to move the series to early peak on Sunday evenings. The response was immediate, with the audience responding avidly to its mixed offering of farming, landscape, history and lifestyle.

You might think this is another example of the wonderful eclecticism of the British factual TV – and I wouldn’t disagree – but I think it’s more remarkable still.

It’s worth noting that the figures for this sample episode are by no means exceptional – our most recent audience research (in July) shows that over its 52 episodes a year, Countryfile is now averaging 6.9 Million in the Live + 7 metric,  (i.e. first transmission plus I-Player over the following week). This is an increase of up half a million over the past two years – and, with our audience also becoming markedly younger, there is no sign of that popularity diminishing!

All good wishes

Bill

Bill Lyons
Executive Editor
Countryfile, COAST, The Sky at Night,
BBC Bristol