Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

UK Ratings Snapshot, 1H 2017: The Sizzling 60 Documentaries & Lifestyle Hits

It’s always a pleasure to share my semi-annual report card on the top-rated UK documentary and lifestyle programs.

I enjoy the compelling diversity and quality of the UK industry.


Here are the Top 60 Documentaries, Lifestyle & Current Affairs programs for UK through June 30, 2017 (in thousands).

1BBC 1Countryfile7,670
2BBC 1Antiques Roadshow6,506
3BBC 1Masterchef6,474
4BBC 1Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum + Dad6,345
5BBC 1Spy in the Wild6,218
6BBC 1Antiques Roadshow Holocaust Memorial6,076
7BBC 1The Real Marigold Hotel5,999
8BBC 1Our Friend Victoria5,397
9ITVThe Real Full Monty5,362
10BBC 1Who Do You Think You Are?5,242
11BBC 1Watchdog4,869
12BBC 1DIY SOS: The Big Build4,824
13BBC 1The Truth About Sleep4,704
14BBC 1The One Show4,670
15BBC 1Panorama: Madeleine McCann: 10 y4,474
16ITVBritain’s Busiest Airport Heathrow4,309
17BBC 1The Met: Policing London4,224
18ITVMartin Clunes: Islands of Australia4,222
19ITVThe Cruise: Sailing the Mediterranean4,216
20BBC 1Galapagos4,173
21BBC 1Shop Well for Less?4,104
22BBC 1Eat Well for Less?4,095
24BBC 1Reported Missing4,051
25ITVThe Martin Lewis Money Show4,004
26BBC 1Week the Landlords Moved In3,982
27BBC 2The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway3,908
28BBC 1Supermarket Shopping Secrets3,861
29BBC 1Italy’s Invisible Cities3,859
30ITVSugar Free Farm3,840
31BBC 1Panorama3,823
32BBC 1Spy in the Wild: Meet the Spies3,784
33BBC 2Top Gear3,767
34BBC 1East Africa Crisis Appeal3,635
35ITVBritain’s Best Walks / Julia Bradbury3,619
36ITVSave Money: Good Health3,559
37ITVLong Lost Family: What Happened Next3,524
38BBC 1Britain On The Fiddle3,459
39BBC 1The Truth About Stress3,451
40ITVPaul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs3,419
41ITVKiller Women with Piers Morgan3,407
42BBC 1The Sheriffs Are Coming3,400
43BBC 2Winterwatch3,378
44BBC 2Great Pottery Throwdown3,345
45ITVLove Your Garden3,290
46BBC 1Call the Midwife: The Casebook3,234
47ITVDevon & Cornwall Cops3,206
48BBC 1Planet Earth II: A World of Wonder3,174
49ITVLady Lucan: Time For Truth3,165
50ITVTales from the Coast with Robson Green3,144
51BBC 2The RHS Chelsea Flower Show3,135
52BBC 2Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby3,127
53ITVPrince Philip: 70 Years of Service3,114
54ITVThe Kyle Files 33,097
55ITVUnbelievable Moments: Caught on Camera3,075
56BBC 2The Day the Dinosaurs Died3,045
57CH4Titanic: The New Evidence3,000
58ITVSave Money: Good Food2,992
59BBC 2Mary Berry Everyday2,981
60BBC 2Gardeners’ World2,966

The list combines BARB’s Documentary, Hobbies / Lifestyle
and Current Affairs categories.


Corbyn Whispering?

  • Many of us saw Brexit predictors in the nostalgia-packed 2016 UK Hits List.
    • There was no big royal birthday or wedding this year.
    • It was left to Prince Phillip (#53) to deliver the HRH-loving audience. (However, I expect that the Princess Diana anniversary will change that for the FY2017 score card.)
    • The rural magazine Countryfile tops the chart, despite losing around 1 million viewers vs the 2016 peak.
  • But is 2017 a Jeremy Corbyn predictor?

Celebrity / Pop Culture

  • Retired football star Rio Ferdinand (#4), comedian Victoria Wood (#8) and programs inspired by The Full Monty (#9), The Real Marigold Hotel (#7) and Call The Midwife (#46)…
  • … They are reminders of the evergreen appeal of factual shows inspired by celebs and legendary TV programs or movies.
  • The Rio Ferdinand special earned acclaim as “an uncompromising, soul-baring examination of grief and in particular its effect on men.”

Natural History / Wildlife

  • The BBC’s Spy in The Wild (#5) reveals the UK’s lasting love of wildlife programs.
  • Spy In The Wild: Meet the Spies (#32) highlights how the Natural History audience delights in getting behind the scenes to learn about the amazing kit and fieldwork devised by production teams.
  • The 4-day “Live event” Winterwatch (#43) drew a peak of 3.4 Mn viewers to an inventive blend of Live feeds from Dorset, fixed cameras and pre-produced packages.
  • Reversing 2016 results, true Natural History programs nudge out popular pet shows, topped by Paul O’Grady’s Love of Dogs (#40).
  • The BBC’s Galapagos (#20) was launched from the Alucia research vessel.
  • When I was engaged by the Dalio Foundation on a strategic plan for Alucia Productions, I set in motion the Alucia’s use as the platform for David Attenborough’s hit Great Barrier Reef series, earning the credit of Development Executive.

More on Genres…

  • Brits love the Travel genre, which barely has a pulse in the U.S.
  • Crime seems to be popping in the UK as in the U.S., including cold case specials on Madeleine McCann and Lady Lucan.
  • Italy’s Invisible Cities (#29) shows that 360 imaging can carry a hit show in a year that the History genre isn’t delivering.
  • Antiques Roadshow ranks #2 behind Countryfile:
    • AR’s highest-rated episode gained 400,000 viewers over 2016.
    • And a hit Holocaust Memorial special added to the franchise’s decades of achievements.

90 is The New 30

  • Specials on Prince Philip (#53) and Mary Berry (#59) are a reminder that the ageing UK broadcast audience loves its Golden Oldies.
  • Here are the average ages of viewers for:
    • BBC1: 61
    • BBC2: 62
    • ITV: 60
    • Channel 4: 55
    • Channel 5: 58
  • The UK production and programming community itself is ageing:
    • The grey hair stands out a bit more each year at our conferences and markets.
    • Younger creatives are drawn to online platforms.
    • Maybe that partly explains the noticeable lack of originality among these hits?
  • Also: Read my post on Sam Barcroft’s WCSFP Stockholm presentation about the viewing habits of UK young (16-24) vs all viewers.

Americans: Take Notes!

These UK hits are earning closer study by U.S. programmers:

  • Channels like Nat Geo, Discovery and History are commissioning more quality, documentary-style factual programs after their audiences grew tired of Reality.
  • Shrinking audiences for the U.S. networks translates into budget pressures, and therefore more opportunities for UK co-productions, acquisitions and format sales.
  • Meanwhile, Netflix and Amazon are expanding their UK operations, and that means sourcing more global factual content from the UK production community.


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