StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Today’s discovery+ launch spotlights David Attenborough’s 10 years of ratings dominance

David Attenborough is a promotional hook for Monday’s long-awaited launch of discovery+.

The 94-year old legend narrates A Perfect Planet, a blue chip series that stands out among the new streamer’s higher quality programs.

I am in awe of Attenborough’s lifetime contribution to documentary filmmaking. I earned a credit on one of his hit series. (See 2016 below.)

The discovery+ press campaign inspired me to take a right turn away from writing abput the streamer’s prospects and instead to focus on Attenborough’s dominating audience appeal.

BBC1 has been his UK broadcasting home.

In this post:

  • I list the top BBC1 wildlife programs from 2020 back to 2011.
  • Attenborough’s programs are highlighted with links.
  • The data is explained in notes below the 2020 list.

Here is my ratings data tribute to David Attenborough, with brief Takeaways.

BBC1 Nature & Wildlife Programs

Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1Extinction: The Facts4,37422.4
3Planet Earth: A Celebration4,10921.7
4Blue Planet Revisited3,94223.2
5Spy in the Wild2,86211.3
6Blue Planet II2,81418.2
7Planet Earth II2,28413.2
8Attenborough and the Sea Dragon2,26916.6
9Penguins – Spy in the Huddle1,91014.1
10Animal Park1,61825.9
11Seven Worlds, One Planet1,44911.9
12Snow Animals3697.6
13Iolo: The Last Wilderness of Wales2071.4
14Stormborn (See my Case Study)1730.8
15Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands1381.7

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.
  • Excuse any oversight if I incorrectly labeled a series.

Still from Sea Dragon


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1Seven Worlds, One Planet8,70439.8
2Blue Planet Live5,74524.3
3Earth from Space4,49417.8
4Snow Animals3,45517.6
5Blue Planet II3,39217
7Animal Park Summer Special2,04036.8
8River Walks1,90110.6
9The Farmers Country Showdown1,62816.4
10Spy in the Snow1,43713.3
11Life in the Snow1,11916.3

Hit Drama vs Hit Wildlife

  • The highest-rated BBC1 dramas in 2019 were Line of Duty (10.7 million) and Call the Midwife (8.7 mill).
  • ITV’s #1 drama was Manhunt (8.7 mill).
  • Seven Worlds‘ 8.7 million viewers is a measure of Attenborough’s untiring appeal, and of the UK broadcast audience’s intense interest in the quality documentary format.


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
2Spy in the Snow5,08525.2
3Big Cats5,02622
4David Attenborough & the Giant Sea Dragon4,86018.9
5Animals with Cameras4,02118.7
6Earth’s Natural Wonders3,67614.7
7Elephants on the Move2,74314.8
8River Walks2,69013.7
9Blue Planet II2,68116.7
10Animals Behaving Badly2,25913
11The Deer Stalker: Our Lives1,86512
12Animal Park Summer Special1,59930.6
13The Farmers Country Showdown1,54816.7
14Attenborough and the Giant Elephant1,15711.4


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1Blue Planet II14,01145.8
2Spy in the Wild6,21825.7
3Wild Alaska Live5,99831.9
4Attenborough and the Giant Elephant5,37820.3
5Snow Bears4,96923.6
7Judi Dench My Passion for Trees3,07513
8The Farmers Country Showdown2,75715.6
9Super Small Animals1,8259.2
10Animal Park Easter Special1,72928

Still from Blue Planet


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1Blue Planet II13,14343.3
2Life in the Snow4,16318.4
3Forces of Nature with Brian Cox3,94416.3
4Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks to People3,70115.7
5Nature’s Miracle Orphans3,65818.7
6Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough3,65313.8
7Ingenious Animals3,25715.7
8Nature’s Epic Journeys2,74911.6
9Autumn: Earth’s Seasonal Secrets2,44116.3
10Animal Babies2,21315.8


Attenborough goes under in the Alucia research vessel’s Triton submersible in “Great Barrier Reef”. I am credited as Development Executive for bringing together Attenborough and Bridgewater hedge fund giant Ray Dalio, then owner of the Alucia.


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1The Hunt5,80121
2Big Blue Live5,32927.8
3Earth’s Natural Wonders4,88222.1
4Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough4,51018.2
5Pets: Wild at Heart4,42318
6Animals in Love4,24520.6
7Super Cute Animals4,23021.7
8Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale4,21517.5
10Nature’s Boldest Thieves3,01416.1


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1Dolphins: Spy in the Pod5,29220.3
2Life Story5,11920.6
3The 7 Wonders of the Commonwealth4,37619.1
4Operation Wild4,15919.3
5Hidden Kingdoms3,80115.3
6Nature’s Miracle Orphans3,78921.2
7Monkey Planet3,63514.9
824 Hours on Earth3,35814.8
9Frozen Planet2,47912.4
10Talk to the Animals2,42812.5


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
2Penguins – Spy in the Huddle5,83520.7
3Animal Odd Couples5,58821.5
4Great Bear Stakeout3,98815.5
5The Great British Year3,93516.8
6Ultimate Swarms3,12313.4
7Britain and the Sea2,99410.3
8Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival2,95715.8
9Super Giants Animals2,62010.9


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1Planet Earth Live6,06122.9
3Snow Babies4,75220.1
4The Great British Countryside4,37217.8
5Supersized Earth4,25816.1
6Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature4,02216.4
7Land of the Lost Wolves3,85914.8
8Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice2,75014.8
9Miniature Britain2,55010.8
10Frozen Planet2,04414.8

Still from First Life


Programme Title‘000 P4+Share
1Frozen Planet9,72734.1
2Ocean Giants5,94122.7
4Planet Dinosaur4,74118.5
5Nature’s Miracle Babies4,04319.8
6Walk on the Wild Side2,12614.4
7Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice1,75510.5
8Animal 24:71,50324.1
9Halcyon River Diaries1,2627.4
10David Attenborough’s First Life59010.5

More on discovery+

And coverage of A Perfect Planet

Read my earlier posts including: