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Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

What Did Brits Watch in Huge Numbers? Factual FY’11 (#1-35)

A friend shared a recent report on the average ratings of UK factual and documentary programs broadcast in 2011.

Here are the Top 1-35, with our Takeaways below.

  • The Takeaways are updated from our August post on the top programs for 1H’11.
  • Also, see our previous post for #36-70 for FY’11.
1The Apprentice: The FinalBBC 117.810239Elimination
2Big Fat Gypsy WeddingsCH415.89050Obs Doc Series
3Frozen PlanetBBC113.78665Nat History
4Big Fat Gypsy ChristmasCH412.67246Obs Doc Series
5Moving On: The Walton SextupletsITV111.36499Obs Doc Series
6Susan Boyle … SuperstarITV111.36336Bio
7StrangewaysITV110.96267Prison Doc Series
8CountryfileBBC 110.35911Magazine
99/11 Day That Changed …ITV110.56043History / Curr Affs
10EarthflightBBC110.05771Nat History
11Top Gear: IndiaBBC210.05761Lifestyle / Travel
12Billy Connolly’s Route 66ITV19.85652Travel
13The Duke At 90BBC 19.55462Bio
14Richard Hammond’s Journey to the CentreBBC 19.45389Science
15Ocean GiantsBBC19.35341Nat History
16My Big Fat Royal Gypsy WeddingCH49.35321Obs Doc Series
17Human PlanetBBC 19.25284Science
18Super Tiny AnimalsITV19.15247Nat History
19Prince Philip At 90ITV18.95110Bio
20Long Lost FamilyITV18.85027Doc Series
21Downton Abbey: Behind the DramaITV18.64983Arts / Pop Culture
22Egyps Lost CitiesBBC 18.64917History
23Harry’s Arctic HeroesBBC18.34752Doc (2)
24Farewell LizITV18.34736Doc
25Terry Wogan’s IrelandBBC 18.34752Travel
26Four of A KindITV18.24715Obs Doc Series
27Embarrassing BodiesCH48.14618Science Series
28Who Do You Think You Are?BBC18.04604Popular History
29Children’s HospitalITV17.94499Obs Doc Series
30The Biggest LoserITV17.94492Elimination
31The Corrie YearsITV17.74936Popular History
32The Unforgettable …ITV17.74426Bio Strand
33Jimmy’s Food FactoryBBC 17.74415Lifestyle / Science
34Babies Behind BarsITV17.64360Obs Doc Series
35Traffic CopsBBC 17.54306Clip Show



  • The list is marvelously eclectic!
  • The ratings are huge compared with the U.S. where comparable programs are long gone from the broadcast network schedules.
    • There is a thriving UK appetite for quality docs of many genres and formats: observational, hosted, classic big Blue Chip, high end Lifestyle, Travel, and so on.
    • Strangeways stands out: it’s a classic, tough observational doc about the Manchester prison.
  • On the topic of Blue Chip:
    • The list includes a number big budget Science, Natural History, History and Archaeology series.
    • Many of these categories are close to extinct in the equivalent U.S. Top 50-100 lists.
    • Cable channels that once did well with them, like Discovery, History and Nat Geo have shifted away from Blue Chip films that are based on deep specialization in their subject matter, and towards character-driven Reality series
  • It was a royal wedding year, so it’s not surprising to see William & Kate joined amongst the top performers by wedding-themed programs like the irresistible Gypsy Weddings.
    • Prince Philip’s big, old grumpy 90th birthday interviews earned extra top slots for the Royal category
  • The list is very British
    • Exceptions that we noticed: # 1 The Apprentice is a U.S. format; and #34 Babies Behind Bars is a U.S. acquisition.
  • There is a lot of nostalgia: the royal stuff, countryside lifestyle magazines, pop culture anniversary specials (for Coronation Street) and so on
  • Hosted programs are strong performers, despite their often reported burial.
  • For all the chatter about them at recent doc conferences, we expected to see more top-rated ‘fixed rig’ shows inspired by Big Brother, like our favorite One Born Every Minute
The Knock
  • For all the chatter about the unique inventiveness of the British TV industry, there are no breakthroughs here.
  • Has the fabled UK format engine run out of petrol? Or Malt? Or whatever else it has run on?

Apologies to our UK readers if this is all old hat. And a bit of a repeat from August.

  • It’s very challenging stuff to readers who work in the factual sector in most of the rest of the world.

 Screen Tasmania
Factual Entertainment Seminar
Hobart, 5-6 March

  • Asia Side of the Doc, Tokyo, 17-21 March
  • And attending: MIPDOC