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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

UK Documentary Ratings: The Top 100 for 2019. Takeaways on Natural History, True Crime and Brexit

It’s always a pleasure to share the UK’s highest-rated documentary and unscripted programs for the past year.

My ratings snapshot for 2019 is comprised of:

  • The Top 50 in the combined Documentary and Lifestyle / Hobbies category.
  • My Takeaways.
  • Then #51-100.
  • I concluded with the Top 25 Current Affairs programs because there is some overlap with the Documentary category.

Will UK Matter Less?

  • The UK is the #2 English-speaking television market.
  • A generously-funded Factual sector has been a creative innovator for generations.
  • However, the industry is enduring the twin disruptions of the rise of Netflix and other online viewing platforms, and a reactionary government that is deeply hostile to the BBC.
  • For the broadcasters, this dramatic shift translates into a shrinking and ageing audience, and upcoming budget cuts of uncertain scale.
  • Meanwhile, my recent visit to Paris revealed a relatively stable funding landscape where the total production spend will soon be topped up by the local programming quotas that will be enforced on streamers like Netflix.

My Post-Brexit Thoughts

  • More UK creatives are likely to become guns-for-hire in the EC and U.S., where they are valued for their directing, writing and other senior-level skills.
  • And British producers will become more active in the co-pro market.

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.

UK Broadcast Audience
Documentary & Hobbies Category
Top 50
2019

ChannelTitle‘000 Viewers People 4+Share
1Channel 4THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF9,76937.6
2BBC 1SEVEN WORLDS, ONE PLANET8,70439.8
3BBC 1THE APPRENTICE7,04330.2
4BBC 1ANTIQUES ROADSHOW6,78932.9
5BBC 1COUNTRYFILE6,56433.5
6ITVBRADLEY WALSH & SON: BREAKING DAD6,44728.5
7BBC 1BLUE PLANET LIVE5,74524.3
8BBC 1COUNTRYFILE WINTER SPECIAL5,66527.7
9BBC 1THE REPAIR SHOP AT CHRISTMAS5,53329.2
10Channel 4THE GREAT CELEBRITY BAKE OFF FOR SU2C5,18321.0
11ITVHARRY’S HEROES: THE FULL ENGLISH5,14524.0
12BBC 1MASTERCHEF5,01522.5
13BBC 1WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?5,01324.5
14ITVPAUL O’GRADY: FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS4,91022.9
15BBC 1THE MURDER OF JILL DANDO4,90121.4
16Channel 4LEAVING NEVERLAND: MICHAEL JACKSON & ME4,67220.8
17ITV63 UP4,65419.5
18BBC 1CELEBRITY MASTERCHEF4,62119.5
19ITVGORDON, GINO AND FRED CHRISTMAS ROAD TRIP4,54519.6
20Channel 4GOGGLEBOX4,51722.0
21BBC 1EARTH FROM SPACE4,49417.8
22BBC 1CELEBRITY APPRENTICE FOR COMIC RELIEF4,48219.1
23ITVFRED & ROSE WEST THE REAL STORY4,42118.7
24ITVLONG LOST FAMILY: BORN WITHOUT TRACE4,32120.1
25BBC 1THE APPRENTICE: YOU’RE HIRED4,23624.3
26BBC 1DIY SOS: THE BIG BUILD4,17219.2
27BBC 1KILIMANJARO: THE BIGGER RED NOSE CLIMB4,16615.9
28ITVLONG LOST FAMILY4,15918.1
29Channel 4GOGGLEBOX: CELEBRITY SPECIAL SU2C 20194,14719.0
30BBC 2TOP GEAR4,13318.1
31ITVINSIDE THE RITZ HOTEL4,13124.3
32ITVMARTIN CLUNES: ISLANDS OF AMERICA4,05716.1
33ITVBRITAIN’S BUSIEST AIRPORT – HEATHROW4,04122.8
34Channel 4CELEBRITY GOGGLEBOX3,98519.1
35ITVTHE ALL NEW MONTY: WHO BARES WINS3,98519.7
36BBC 1AMBULANCE3,96418.5
37BBC 1EAT WELL FOR LESS?3,95420.0
38BBC 1THE MET: POLICING LONDON3,95019.7
39Channel 4THE GREAT NEW YEAR’S BAKE OFF3,89114.2
40BBC 1THE REAL MARIGOLD ON TOUR3,84015.8
41ITVWHAT THE DURRELLS DID NEXT3,82121.3
42BBC 1DIY SOS FOR CHILDREN IN NEED3,75217.3
43ITVHARRY & MEGHAN: AN AFRICAN JOURNEY3,74116.6
44ITVTHE ALL NEW MONTY LADIES NIGHT: WHO BARE3,70117.7
45BBC 2THE GREAT BRITISH SEWING BEE3,69216.2
46BBC 1THE RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW3,68521.1
47ITVHATTON GARDEN: THE INSIDE STORY3,65817.3
48Channel 4THE GREAT CHRISTMAS BAKE OFF3,65013.8
49ITVTHE BEST LITTLE PRISON IN BRITAIN?3,64721.5
50BBC 1JACK THE RIPPER – THE CASE REOPENED3,63017.1

Birds star in the BBC ratings leader “Seven Worlds, One Planet”

TAKEAWAYS

Natural History

  • Seven Worlds One Planet (#2) and Blue Planet Live (#7) with David Attenborough scored with huge audiences.
  • Inspired by A&E’s international hit Live PD, channels and platforms everywhere are developing LIVE formats in many genres, notably in Natural History.

A Glut of Super- Blue Chip?

  • Are we heading towards a glut of big-budget Blue Chip Natural History series?
  • Most of these productions come from veterans of the BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol.
  • Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, and others have committed mega-millions on Blue Planet-like series that rely on years of research, extraordinary cinematography and never-before-seen sequences of stunning animal behavior.
  • After a while, these unforgettable ‘Signature’ scenes become the new normal.
  • The commissioning networks and platforms will find that they are paying premium costs for projects that are no longer unique, and that don’t break through.
  • Many industry insiders are predicting that buyers will refocus on less costly ($1 million +/-) but still Blue Chip wildlife programs that tell engaging stories, and that are suitable for both the channels and platforms.

Pets

  • It was an otherwise meagre Top 100 for the Wildlife genre, even for popular Pets programs.
  • Notable are Paul O’Grady’s For the Love of Dogs (#14, 77) and Britain’s Top 100 Dogs Live (#70, and note: more LIVE!)

Notorious Crime Pays

  • Great British crimes and criminality are revisited in the Top 50: the Hatton Garden heist, The Murder Of Jill Dando, Fred & Rose West, and even Jack The Ripper.
  • Crime, punishment and incarceration are well-covered, for example in Best Little Prison (49), Psychopaths (52) and Channel 4’s Police Custody / Reality series  (72)
  • Pop celebrity meets expose of criminality in the U.S. import Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson & Me (16).

Royals Downgraded

  • The Windsors have featured in the Top 100 list for years.
  • Their births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and lifestyle choices have all driven hits.
  • But not in 2019.
  • Even Meghan and Harry don’t rank until #43.
  • However, remarkably to this Brooklyn-based former colonial subject, The Queen’s Christmas Message ranks #1 in audience share and #3 in viewers for 2019 across the combined Documentary, Lifestyle and Current Affairs categories.
  • While her son HRH Andrew receives damaging coverage in Panorama‘s Jeffrey Epstein expose (#4).

Celebrity / Pop Culture

  • Celebrity-hosted documentaries and fundraisers did well, from Harry’s Heroes, Climbing Kilimanjaro, Celebrity Apprentice to Real Monty spin-offs, and more.

Franchises / Formats

  • I often congratulate the BBC’s lower-cost nostalgic franchises Countryfile and Antiques Roadshow for their powerhouse rankings, decade after decade.
  • Baking, Master Chef, Lost Lost Families and other formats continue to thrive, though I’m waiting and waiting for a new British format as fresh as Gogglebox was years ago (#20 and #34 in 2019).
  • Note also that Channel 5 dropped out of the Top 100,

UK Broadcast Audience
Documentary & Hobbies Category
#51-100,
2019

ChannelTitle‘000 Viewers People 4+Share
51BBC 2MASTERCHEF: THE PROFESSIONALS3,54617.8
52ITVPSYCHOPATH WITH PIERS MORGAN3,48214.6
53Channel 4SAS: WHO DARES WINS3,47813.1
54ITVTHE CRUISE: SHANGHAI TO SYDNEY3,47016.3
55BBC 1SNOW ANIMALS3,45517.6
56ITVLONG LOST FAMILY: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT3,44617.2
57BBC 1BLUE PLANET II: OCEANS OF WONDER3,39217.0
58ITVPRINCE CHARLES: INSIDE THE DUCHY OF CORNWALL3,35815.7
59BBC 2TOP GEAR NEPAL SPECIAL3,35014.6
60ITVHARD TO PLEASE OAPS3,34516.1
61ITVTHE JUNK FOOD EXPERIMENT3,31516.3
62BBC 1JESY NELSON: ODD ONE OUT3,25816.7
63BBC 1FAKE OR FORTUNE?3,25317.8
64BBC 2RACE ACROSS THE WORLD3,22614.0
65BBC 1JAPAN WITH SUE PERKINS3,20814.7
66BBC 1DIY SOS: CELEBRATING 20 YEARS3,18017.5
67ITVCALL THE CLEANERS3,16317.0
68ITVJILL DANDO – THE 20 YEAR MYSTERY3,12615.0
69ITVBRITAIN’S BUSIEST MOTORWAY3,12014.4
70ITVBRITAIN’S TOP 100 DOGS LIVE: 20193,11913.7
71Channel 424 HOURS IN POLICE CUSTODY3,09213.5
72ITVVICTORIA’S PALACE3,08214.8
73ITVSAVE MONEY: GOOD DIET3,08018.6
74ITVHER MAJESTY’S CAVALRY3,06615.4
75Channel 4CELEBRITY HUNTED3,06313.4
76BBC 1THE REPAIR SHOP3,05226.1
77ITVPAUL O’GRADY FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS XMAS3,04816.1
78ITVBILLY CONNOLLY’S GREAT AMERICAN TRAIL3,04215.6
79Channel 4ESCAPE TO THE CHATEAU3,03213.2
80ITVHOW TO SPEND IT WELL AT CHRISTMAS3,01214.0
81ITVSAVE MONEY: LOSE WEIGHT2,99917.1
82ITVCODE BLUE: MURDER2,98414.0
83ITVINSIDE PRISON: BRITAIN BEHIND BARS2,97016.1
84BBC 2DRAGONS’ DEN2,96915.9
85Channel 4ESCAPE TO THE CHATEAU AT CHRISTMAS2,96612.2
86ITVCONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL KILLER WITH PIER2,95611.9
87ITVSECRETS OF THE ROYAL BABIES: MEGHAN2,95512.9
88BBC 1SERENGETI2,95116.8
89BBC 2THE PLANETS (BBC2)2,95013.2
90BBC 2BILLY CONNOLLY: MADE IN SCOTLAND2,93510.8
91BBC 2INSIDE THE FACTORY2,93315.3
92ITVWHAT WOULD YOUR KID DO?2,93215.1
93ITVLONG LOST FAMILY SPECIAL: THE UNKNOWN2,92913.7
94ITVEASYJET: INSIDE THE COCKPIT2,92514.0
95ITVLOVE YOUR HOME AND GARDEN2,89713.1
96ITVFIGHTER PILOT: THE REAL TOP GUN2,88614.4
97ITVSAVE MONEY: GOOD HEALTH2,88415.0
98ITVFRAUD: HOW THEY STEAL YOUR BANK ACCOUNT2,88214.4
99ITVTHE DEATH OF AIMEE SPENCER2,87411.5
100BBC 1OUR COPS IN THE NORTH2,83215.1

Documentary Production Roadmap

UK Broadcast Audience
Current Affairs Category
Top 25 2019

ChannelTitle‘000 Viewers People 4+
1BBC 1THE QUEEN’S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE7,184
2BBC 1OUR NEXT PRIME MINISTER5,369
3BBC 1THE ONE SHOW4,236
4BBC 1PANORAMA: THE PRINCE AND EPSTEIN4,090
5BBC 1REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY: THE CENOTAPH3,865
6BBC 1WAR ON PLASTIC WITH HUGH AND ANITA3,629
7BBC 1CLIMATE CHANGE: THE FACTS3,560
8BBC 1SHOP WELL FOR LESS?3,433
9BBC 1WATCHDOG3,397
10BBC 1FAKE BRITAIN3,337
11BBC 1SUPERMARKET SECRETS3,303
12BBC 1THE ANDREW NEIL INTERVIEWS3,177
13BBC 1BRITAIN’S FAT FIGHT: THE BATTLE CONTINUE2,987
14BBC 1INSIDE THE SUPERMARKET2,949
15BBC 1QUESTION TIME2,846
16BBC 1TAKEAWAY SECRETS EXPOSED: PANORAMA2,727
17BBC 1RIP OFF BRITAIN2,708
18BBC 1CRITICAL INCIDENT2,626
19BBC 1THE SHERIFFS ARE COMING2,612
20BBC 1QUESTION TIME ELECTION SPECIAL: UNDER 302,596
21BBC 1QUESTION TIME RESULTS SPECIAL2,579
22BBC 1STACEY MEETS THE IS BRIDES: PANORAMA2,397
23BBC 1PANORAMA: CONNED BY MY CHURCH2,397
24BBC 1UNDERCOVER HOSPITAL ABUSE SCANDAL2,394
25BBC 1CAN WE TRUST HUAWEI? – PANORAMA2,277