How UK TV Shows Make Money Internationally

The United Kingdom has one of the most successful television markets worldwide, with ground-breaking formats and globally recognized series. It comes as no surprise that according to a Pact research report, scripted dramas pushed UK TV exports up 6% year on year, to a record £1.48 billion ($1.97 billion) in 2019/20.

As more UK programs start to air throughout the world, Betway has done the research and investigated the matter further. To find the most popular UK TV exports, we sifted through the data for all of the UK’s TV exports, from scripted dramas to game shows and reality television genres.

Top Media Exports

The top three UK TV exports in 2020 were Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Planet Earth account for 70% of UK TV export sales, bringing in almost £1 billion each year. Looking more closely at different media export categories, we see a few trends:

Scripted Programming

Dramas such as “Doctor Who,” “His Dark Materials,” and  “Chernobyl” were the primary export drivers, accounting for 48 percent of total profits. Factual programming, which includes series such as “Seven Worlds,” “One Planet,” and “The Planets,” increased its share from 23% to 28% year on year.

Sales of finished television shows were the most significant source of revenue, accounting for 70% of the total. According to the research, sales topped £1 billion ($1.33 billion) for the very first time this year, reflecting a 7% increase over the previous year.

Unscripted Show Formats

Overall revenue from format sales grew by 39% to £119 million ($159 million), with Europe accounting for 51% of total revenue. Co-production sales grew by 6% to £133 million ($177.7 million), with North America accounting for 88% of the total.

Library Sales

This year, library sales of media older than four years contributed 22% of total income, up from 38% the previous year. With manufacturing impacted beyond March 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic, library sales might contribute more in the coming fiscal year, with comments from U.K. distributors indicating higher demand already.

Key Export Markets

The United States is by far the most significant market for UK exports, accounting for 32% of total revenue (£466 million) in the 2019/20 fiscal year, up £22 million from the previous year.

After the US, rounding off UK programming’ top five export markets are France with £102m/$137m, Australia with £98m/$131, Canada with £80m/$107m, and the Nordics with £77m/$103m.

China, South Africa, Germany, Italy, and New Zealand are other important export markets. China, in particular, is a market with development potential, and revenues to it grew by 25% to £40m ($54m) in 2020.

Following Brexit, the European Union intends to reduce the “disproportionate” quantity of British cinema and television aired across the continent, which would be a setback for the United Kingdom’s entertainment industry.

SVODs Driving Demand

A wide range of subscription video-on-demand services from throughout the world are acquiring UK shows and show formats. For example, the rights to The Feed were sold to Amazon Prime Video for the Brazilian, Canadian, Mexican, and US territories, to SBS on Demand for Australia, to StarzPlay for EU countries including France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, and even to Bilibili in China.

UK TV Exports in the Coming Years

Despite recent global events, next year’s prospects for the UK entertainment industry, for drama production at least, are positive. Budgets are expected to grow as demand for stand-out drama series intensifies. The global crisis struck key industry financers like ITV and C4 hard in March, but, overall, the situation has not devolved into the disaster that was anticipated at the time. 

Money that could not be spent this year will be used to fund projects for the following year. Streaming services are set to continue spending substantially on UK-produced content. Netflix has committed to invest $500 million (£400 million) on new British content in 2021.

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