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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):

PROGRAMMEViewersShare
BBC 1COUNTRYFILE7,29532.0Factual
BBC 2TOP GEAR7,00624.4Leisure
BBC 1MASTERCHEF6,57727.0Leisure
CH4BENEFITS STREET6,48222.8Factual
BBC 1ANTIQUES ROADSHOW6,22524.0Leisure
BBC 1DOLPHINS: SPY IN THE POD5,29220.3Factual
BBC 1DIY SOS: THE BIG BUILD5,25922.8Leisure
BBC 1DAVID BECKHAM INTO THE UNKNOWN5,07420.0Factual
BBC 1CELEBRITY MASTERCHEF4,93821.6Leisure
BBC 1BRITAIN’S GREAT WAR4,64616.3Factual
BBC 1FAKE OR FORTUNE?4,58020.0Leisure
CH4GOGGLEBOX4,38919.1Factual
ITVSECRET LIFE OF…4,32516.2Factual
BBC 1PARKING MAD4,23117.5Factual
BBC 1INSIDE OUT4,09717.0Factual
BBC 1DAVINA: BEYOND BREAKING POINT FOR SPORT3,94615.9Factual
ITVPAUL O’GRADY’S ANIMAL ORPHANS3,83514.1Factual
ITVSTUDENT NURSES: BEDPANS + BANDAGES3,80616.8Factual
BBC 1HIDDEN KINGDOMS3,80115.3Factual
ITVA GREAT WELSH ADVENTURE WITH GRIFF RHYS3,78714.3Factual
CH5CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER3,71215.1Factual
BBC 2MARY BERRY COOKS3,70714.1Leisure
BBC 1BANG GOES THE THEORY3,69515.8Factual
CH4ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE3,66312.5Factual
BBC 1MONKEY PLANET3,63514.9Factual
CH4BENEFITS STREET: THE LAST WORD3,59913.7Factual
BBC 2THE GREAT BRITISH SEWING BEE3,49413.2Leisure
BBC 1HOLIDAY HIT SQUAD3,47715.4Leisure
ITVHARRY’S SOUTH POLE HEROES3,37713.6Factual
BBC 124 HOURS ON EARTH3,35814.8Factual
CH424 HOURS IN A & E3,35213.6Factual
BBC 1THE RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW3,33916.1Leisure
ITVBILLY CONNOLLY’S BIG SEND OFF3,31113.6Factual
CH4INSIDE ROLLS-ROYCE3,30613.1Factual
CH4THE ISLAND WITH BEAR GRYLLS3,29213.5Factual
ITVMARTIN CLUNES & A LION CALLED MUGIE3,26613.7Factual
BBC 2DRAGONS’ DEN3,26512.2Factual
ITVTHE WALTON SEXTUPLETS AT 303,24914.0Factual
ITVLOVE YOUR GARDEN3,24116.0Leisure
CH4THE UNDATEABLES3,20310.8Factual
CH4DAVID BLAINE: REAL OR MAGIC3,1809.5Factual
CH4LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION3,13212.4Leisure
ITVCORONATION STREET: A MOVING STORY3,13212.1Factual
ITVQUADS: OUR FIRST YEAR3,09814.0Factual
BBC 1A TRIBUTE TO ROGER LLOYD PACK3,07917.2Factual
BBC 1THE TREASURE HUNTERS3,03511.6Factual
BBC 2STARGAZING LIVE3,00111.9Factual
ITVFAREWELL TINA2,99114.7Factual
BBC 2OPERATION GRAND CANYON WITH DAN SNOW2,9629.3Factual
BBC 2DAVE ALLEN: GOD’S OWN COMEDIAN2,95311.4Factual

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