UK Nonfiction Hits, 2014: Beckham Bends One Into the Top 10

The latest UK unscripted viewing data is always a pleasant surprise for this US-based viewer.

  • The quality and eclectic mix stand out year after year.
  • There is a thriving appetite for nonfiction programs across genres and formats.
  • They include obs docs, hosted series and specials, Blue Chip Wildlife, popular Science, high end Lifestyle, Travel, and so on.

Here is a chart of the Top 50 Factual programs in UK for 2014 through July 31 (Viewers 4+ / ‘000):

PROGRAMME Viewers Share
BBC 1 COUNTRYFILE 7,295 32.0 Factual
BBC 2 TOP GEAR 7,006 24.4 Leisure
BBC 1 MASTERCHEF 6,577 27.0 Leisure
CH4 BENEFITS STREET 6,482 22.8 Factual
BBC 1 ANTIQUES ROADSHOW 6,225 24.0 Leisure
BBC 1 DOLPHINS: SPY IN THE POD 5,292 20.3 Factual
BBC 1 DIY SOS: THE BIG BUILD 5,259 22.8 Leisure
BBC 1 DAVID BECKHAM INTO THE UNKNOWN 5,074 20.0 Factual
BBC 1 CELEBRITY MASTERCHEF 4,938 21.6 Leisure
BBC 1 BRITAIN’S GREAT WAR 4,646 16.3 Factual
BBC 1 FAKE OR FORTUNE? 4,580 20.0 Leisure
CH4 GOGGLEBOX 4,389 19.1 Factual
ITV SECRET LIFE OF… 4,325 16.2 Factual
BBC 1 PARKING MAD 4,231 17.5 Factual
BBC 1 INSIDE OUT 4,097 17.0 Factual
BBC 1 DAVINA: BEYOND BREAKING POINT FOR SPORT 3,946 15.9 Factual
ITV PAUL O’GRADY’S ANIMAL ORPHANS 3,835 14.1 Factual
ITV STUDENT NURSES: BEDPANS + BANDAGES 3,806 16.8 Factual
BBC 1 HIDDEN KINGDOMS 3,801 15.3 Factual
ITV A GREAT WELSH ADVENTURE WITH GRIFF RHYS 3,787 14.3 Factual
CH5 CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER 3,712 15.1 Factual
BBC 2 MARY BERRY COOKS 3,707 14.1 Leisure
BBC 1 BANG GOES THE THEORY 3,695 15.8 Factual
CH4 ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE 3,663 12.5 Factual
BBC 1 MONKEY PLANET 3,635 14.9 Factual
CH4 BENEFITS STREET: THE LAST WORD 3,599 13.7 Factual
BBC 2 THE GREAT BRITISH SEWING BEE 3,494 13.2 Leisure
BBC 1 HOLIDAY HIT SQUAD 3,477 15.4 Leisure
ITV HARRY’S SOUTH POLE HEROES 3,377 13.6 Factual
BBC 1 24 HOURS ON EARTH 3,358 14.8 Factual
CH4 24 HOURS IN A & E 3,352 13.6 Factual
BBC 1 THE RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW 3,339 16.1 Leisure
ITV BILLY CONNOLLY’S BIG SEND OFF 3,311 13.6 Factual
CH4 INSIDE ROLLS-ROYCE 3,306 13.1 Factual
CH4 THE ISLAND WITH BEAR GRYLLS 3,292 13.5 Factual
ITV MARTIN CLUNES & A LION CALLED MUGIE 3,266 13.7 Factual
BBC 2 DRAGONS’ DEN 3,265 12.2 Factual
ITV THE WALTON SEXTUPLETS AT 30 3,249 14.0 Factual
ITV LOVE YOUR GARDEN 3,241 16.0 Leisure
CH4 THE UNDATEABLES 3,203 10.8 Factual
CH4 DAVID BLAINE: REAL OR MAGIC 3,180 9.5 Factual
CH4 LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION 3,132 12.4 Leisure
ITV CORONATION STREET: A MOVING STORY 3,132 12.1 Factual
ITV QUADS: OUR FIRST YEAR 3,098 14.0 Factual
BBC 1 A TRIBUTE TO ROGER LLOYD PACK 3,079 17.2 Factual
BBC 1 THE TREASURE HUNTERS 3,035 11.6 Factual
BBC 2 STARGAZING LIVE 3,001 11.9 Factual
ITV FAREWELL TINA 2,991 14.7 Factual
BBC 2 OPERATION GRAND CANYON WITH DAN SNOW 2,962 9.3 Factual
BBC 2 DAVE ALLEN: GOD’S OWN COMEDIAN 2,953 11.4 Factual

The list combines BARB’s Factual and Hobbies/Lifestyle categories.

TAKEAWAYS

I’m short on time today, but here are my quick Takeaways for 1H 2014:

Low Budget / Big Punch

  • The BBC’s Countryfile leads them all, leaving even Top Gear well behind in Share.
  • For 25+ years, this weekly hour has drawn viewers to its portraits of a rural way of life that is generations-distant for most of them.
  • Antiques Roadshow is in its incredible 37th year as a hit series, and comes in at #5.
  • Countryfile and AR are tentpoles for BBC1:  I hope that the BBC execs have the good sense to put aside their dreams of BAFTA’s and celebrity lunches for long enough to invest in the production and promotion of these efficient hits that punch far, far above their weights.

Welfare Hit

  • Channel 4’s risky Obs doc series Benefits Street covers the residents of one of Britain’s most welfare-dependent streets, and comes in at a remarkable #4 with a 22.8 share.
  • Its hard to explain the success of Benefits: big factors are memorable casting centred on two big characters “White Dee” and Back Dee” who shamelessly game the crumbs of the UK welfare system.

Becks Does Che

  • David Beckham (#8) shows off his huge starpower by channeling Motorcyle Diaries in a 90-minute Brazilian adventure feature doc that coincided with the World Cup.

Becks2

  • Beck’s promotable experiences include ‘the difficulty of sleeping in a hammock.’
  • Hosts are back: Like Beckham, they are often celebs from other fields who are embedded in the action. (See Royals below.)

Formats

  • Top Gear, MasterChef, DIY SOS and Leisure formats populate the Top 10, but as we go down the list, the more classic Factual one-offs and limited series come to the fore.

Natural History: Blue Chip & Popular

  • Dolphins (#6) builds on last years’ BBC-NHU Penguins hit by using breakthrough camera kit to deliver unique underwater access and great ratings.
  • The other Wildlife programs in our Top 20 are the ‘cute-heavy’ popular hosted specials, The Secret Life of … Cats / Babies from OSF, and Paul O’Grady’s Animal Orphans.

History / Royals

  • The History genre fell back versus 2013, with only Britain’s Great War in the Top 20. Let’s see what 2H14 brings.
  • Royals thankfully tumbled off or down the list: Harry’s South Pole Heroes slogs in below expectations at the #28 slot.

Originality: Keep It Simple!

  • Not on the list but high on my ranking for originality and simplicity is Nat Geo UK‘s The Science of Stupid. Hosted by Top Gear‘s Richard Hammond, Stupid explains the science behind YouTube clips of people doing dumb and usually painful things.  Sample segments include ‘Fork Lift Catastrophe.’ Inexpensive, compelling, funny, super title, clear concept: Stupid will go global… and run and run forever.
  • The closest to a breakthrough idea on our Top 50 is Gogglebox, in which brilliantly cast couch potatoes comment on their TV viewing experiences.
  • We covered Gogglebox in our post on ‘What’s the Buzz’ at the 2013 Montreal World Congress.

Compared with US

  • The ratings are huge compared with U.S. audiences for comparable programs.
  • Most of these successful UK categories are extinct in the equivalent U.S. Top 50.
  • The avalanche of Reality series that buried so much quality US Factual since the ‘Nineties has lost its momentum.
  • It’s been years since A&E’s Duck Dynasty was the last breakout Reality series.
  • The genre has grown stale, derivative, and even more yicky, leading to eroding ratings for the leading non-fiction channels like History, A&E and Discovery.
  • Meanwhile, the UK pipeline goes on delivering