Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

UK Viewers: What Did They Watch before the Olympics? Part 1: Top 100 Factual Programs, 1st Half, 2012

Here is our own tribute to London 2012 – the first of three posts that cover the UK  audience for factual programs.

A friend shared a recent report on the ratings for UK factual programs and docs broadcast through the end of  June.

Here is a chart of the Highest-rated Factual programs by broadcast network.












These were the Top 100 nonfiction shows for 1H 2012, with our Takeaways:

1The ApprenticeBBC 18,054.129.8
2CountryfileBBC 17,594.226.6
3Big Fat Gypsy WeddingsCH47,234.524.9
4The Diamond QueenBBC 17,117.323.7
5The Apprentice: The FinalBBC 16,987.325.8
6Planet Earth LiveBBC 16,061.422.9
7Elizabeth: Queen, Wife, MotherITV15,701.223.4
8John Bishop’s Sport Relief HellBBC 15,638.421.5
9Long Lost FamilyITV15,628.421.4
1056 UpITV15,488.920.8
11Farewell BeckyITV15,088.220.3
12EarthflightBBC 15,075.318.1
13Super Smart AnimalsBBC 15,058.120.9
14Bomber BoysBBC 15,035.518.1
15One Born Every MinuteCH44,869.717.9
16Eastenders: Farewell PatBBC 14,595.615.3
17Strictly KosherITV14,557.218.0
18The One Show: Best of BritainBBC 14,545.423.2
19Titanic With Len GoodmanBBC 14,482.320.2
20ChatsworthBBC 14,470.917.0
21Britain’s Biggest HoardersBBC 14,410.115.8
22The Great British CountrysideBBC 14,372.017.8
23Cornwall With Caroline QuentinITV14,304.414.0
24All The Queen’s Horses: A Diamond JubileITV14,262.718.5
25Traffic CopsBBC 14,245.119.0
26The DalesITV14,152.515.5
27The Unforgettable…ITV14,144.218.4
28Nature’s Weirdest EventsBBC 24,130.715.2
29Celebrity Big BrotherChannel 53,899.716.0
3015 Kids and CountingCH43,859.214.2
31Land of the Lost WolvesBBC 13,858.914.8
32Embarrassing BodiesCH43,852.013.6
33King George & Queen Mary: the Royals Who Rescued the MonarchyBBC 23,805.114.2
34The Mighty Mississippi with Trevor McdonITV13,788.013.5
35Empire (BBC)BBC 13,724.513.6
36Stargazing LiveBBC 23,704.212.9
37David Walliams’s Big Swim: Sport ReliefBBC 13,666.813.1
38The Hoarder Next DoorCH43,659.813.9
39Motorway CopsBBC 13,635.814.0
4124 Hours in A&ECH43,561.413.9
42Terror at Sea: the Sinking of the ConcordiaCH43,533.613.9
43Turn Back Time: the FamilyBBC 13,497.613.7
45Great Barrier ReefBBC 23,409.210.5
46One Born: What Happened Next?CH43,403.412.9
47The Biggest LoserITV13,387.712.6
48Bang Goes the TheoryBBC 13,380.014.1
50Who Do You Think You Are?BBC 13,341.013.6
51The UndateablesCH43,251.612.1
52Make Bradford BritishCH43,247.812.3
53The Queen and IITV13,235.914.2
54Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary JourneyBBC 23,215.610.9
55The Apprentice – You’re Fired!BBC 23,199.114.5
56Kelly and Her Sisters Grow UpITV13,163.715.1
57Britain’s Lost Routes with Griff Rhys JonesBBC 13,162.515.9
58The Walton Sextuplets: Moving OnITV13,154.513.2
60River MonstersITV13,017.312.7
61Big BrotherChannel 53,015.112.3
62Poms in ParadiseITV12,999.212.1
63How to Beat PainBBC 12,992.614.8
64True Stories: Gypsy BloodCH42,967.917.4
65The 70sBBC 22,933.910.0
66Alex Polizzi: The FixerBBC 22,926.812.0
67Supersize vs SuperskinnyCH42,915.312.1
68HorizonBBC 22,902.210.4
69Accused: the 74 Stone BabysitterCH42,891.610.8
70CoastBBC 22,884.211.3
71Toughest Place to Be a Train DriverBBC 22,864.09.8
72Sinking of the Concordia: … On CameraCH42,833.510.5
73Safari Vet SchoolITV12,817.911.9
74The Talent Show StoryITV12,790.011.0
75Polar Bear: Spy on the IceBBC 12,749.514.8
76Bodyshock: Turtle BoyCH42,694.312.6
77Secrets of the ShopliftersCH42,693.613.7
78Toughest Place to Be a BinmanBBC 22,684.39.4
799/11: The Lost TapesCH42,667.410.2
80Stargazing Live: Back to EarthBBC 22,606.29.6
81John le Mesurier – It’s All Been Rather LovelyBBC 22,603.19.8
82Great British Railway JourneysBBC 22,579.312.0
83Bear’s Wild WeekendsCH42,560.48.4
84The HotelCH42,545.67.8
85Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a LifetimeCH42,535.79.6
86Embarrassing Bodies: Live From the ClinicCH42,505.510.8
87Great British Railway Journeys / IrelandBBC 22,465.911.4
88Gok Wan: Made in ChinaCH42,461.010.0
89An Island ParishBBC 22,456.78.2
91Homes From HellITV12,437.49.8
92Great Ormond StreetBBC 22,423.99.5
93A History of Ancient BritainBBC 22,384.48.1
94Who Do You Think You Are? USABBC 12,375.015.5
95Indian Ocean with Simon ReeveBBC 22,373.68.6
96I Love 1972BBC 22,367.49.9
97The Tallest Tower: Building the ShardCH42,341.68.6
98The Natural WorldBBC 22,336.89.8
99My Big Fat FetishCH42,328.812.8
100The World’s Largest SnakeCH42,304.09.0



  • We say this every time we view the latest UK viewing data: “the list is wonderfully eclectic!”
  • The ratings are huge compared with U.S. audiences for comparable programs
    • 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
  • It is wonderful to see Michael Apted’s 56 Up in the UK list.
  • The list still includes several big budget Science, Natural History, History and Archaeology series.
    • Many of these categories are close to extinct in the equivalent U.S. Top 100 lists
    • For example, # 12 Earthflight is a 5-part series narrated by actor David Tennant that captures natural wonders through the eyes of birds.
    • The series earned brilliant reviews, including for technical advances in wildlife kit.
  • “Live” is a minor new theme:
    • Planet Earth and Stargazing both went Live
    • But animals and clear skies aren’t guaranteed to perform on cue
  • After the Royal Wedding, this is another British year that’s marked by a big PR-packed royal event
    • Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee earns a double in the Top 10.
    • And royal topics are sprinkled up and down the list.
    • Then there’s the Queen’s keen interest in horses reflected in All the Queen’s Horses  which cantered in at #24
  • Stately homes also starred:
    • Chatsworth follows a year in the life of a Devonshire home of Europe’s most significant art collections, passed down through 16 generations with the house, architecture and art collection evolving over 5 centuries.
    • There’s a Downton Abbey factual/scripted fusion going on here: Chatsworth captures the challenges faced by the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire and their staff
  • Hosted programs are strong performers, despite their often reported burial.
  • The list is very British:
    • The very big exception is #1 The Apprentice, a U.S. format.
  • Extreme human behavior is still popular:
    • Obsessions, eating disorders / illnesses and medical conditions are all fair game.
    • #21 Britain’s Biggest Hoarders tracks obsessive hoarding behavior.
  • There is plenty of nostalgia, as ever:
    • The royal stuff, countryside lifestyle magazines, pop culture anniversary specials (for Eastenders) and much more.
  • What’s returning and noteworthy?
    • ITV’tearjerker Long Lost Family looks like becoming a successful returning series.
    • Family members are reunited after long and often harrowing separations
  • Overall report card?
    • Amazing quality and variety!
    • There aren’t many new breakout programs that are apparent in the list.

Apologies to our UK readers if this is old hat.  The data is very refreshing to readers who are located in the 113 (!!) other countries where is now regular reading!

Editorial assistance:  Alexander Watson.


This post in memory of my late, oldest brother John Hamilton, a super athlete who was the  high jump alternate on the Australian squad for Melbourne 1956.



  • Hobbies & Leisure: The Top 50, led by that evergreen franchise Antiques Roadshow
  • UK Cable/Satellite:
    • How do Discovery, Nat Geo and History  audiences compare with UK broadcasters?
    • What are the Top 10 programs for these channels, 2006-12?



What Do U.S. Networks Want?
How Can You Get It?
Sunday, September 9 

Come to my one-of-a-kind intensive workshop with charismatic reality TV series developer and executive producer, Stephen Harris.

The topics

  • What do US factual channels want?
  • For docs? And Reality?
  • How do programmers make decisions?
  • How much do they pay producers?
  • Who gets the work?
  • Why?
  • When?

Your Takeaways?

  • A grasp of how the nonfiction business works.
  • Really valuable data and contacts.
  • Constructive pitching guidance.
  • Assessments of your projects.
  • Knowledge of how to go forward!
  • All this, plus two gurus, and much, much more.


  • Click here to register
  • Workshop attendees earn a 10% Westdoc Conference and Workshop discount using the registration code: HAMILTON12


  1. A minor point, but probably worth making. The Apprentice may be an American format originally, but the UK version is very different from the US version. The US version seems very much in thrall to its sponsorship/product placement: brand names come thick and fast. This is not possible in the UK, and still less on the BBC, so brands are hardly mentioned. The US version also plays down the challenges as well, using them simply as a vehicle for the bitchiness between the contestants.

    The BBC still has its remit of “inform, educate and entertain”, more or less, and so the business tasks are actually played out fully, and genuine business conclusions drawn. Obviously the bitchiness also comes out, as does poor decision-making, and that’s the entertainment bit taken care of. Still, it’s become a different beast to the American Apprentice. And I haven’t even mentioned the difference between the Donald and Lord Sugar…

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