Market Insight

UK TV exports still hit the spot in the US

October 10, 2013

Tim Westcott Tim Westcott Director, Research and Analysis, Programming
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Exports of UK television programming increased 4% in 2012, with the US remaining by far the biggest market, according to a report released by Pact and UK Trade & Investment this week. Total worldwide sales were up to £1.224 billion ($1.9 billion) from £1.178 billion in 2011. Sales to the USA were up 11% to £475 million and represented 39% of total sales, well ahead of Australia and New Zealand (8%), Canada (6%) and Scandinavia (5%).

Sales of finished TV programming made up around half the total, falling slightly to £612 million. Production of new programming for broadcasters outside the UK increased 19% to £160 million, and format sales fell 6.8% to £41 million. Digital rights grew 50% but remain the smallest category, while co-productions brought in £33 million, up 57% on the year before.

The survey was based on replies from 20 companies. As in previous years, this means that the numbers from last year's survey were restated. In last year's report, Pact members reported global sales of £1.4 billion in 2011 - a discrepancy of £297 million. Clearly some companies of considerable scale were unwilling or unable to take part in this year's report.

The inconsistency of the Pact/UKTI report makes it difficult to extrapolate any long-term trends about the UK television industry. The US market was valued at  £555 million in 2011 in last year's report, so the revised total is almost £128 million lower.  It does, however, remain clear that the US is easily the most important market for UK content, with Canada representing 46% of sales, ahead of 23% for the rest of western Europe.  Significantly, in the light of the decline in sales of finished programming, UK producers generated more from commissions of new programming in North America (£160 million) than TV sales (£145 million) last year. North America also accounted for 80% of worldwide co-production revenues but only 10% of format sales. These numbers reflect two trends; the establishment of overseas production divisions by the likes of BBC Worldwide, ITV Studios and All3Media, and co-operation between US cable networks and UK producers - such as last year's Starz/BBC historical drama series Da Vinci's Demons and the AMC/Endemol/Tiger Aspect drama Low Winter Sun.

Producers reported that the low number of episodes per run was the biggest obstacle to international sales. Few UK originated drama series run for more than 10 episodes, while many international buyers look for at least 26 episodes in a run. They also cited 'overly domestic content' - soap operas like Coronation Street and Eastenders are not major sellers in all territories, despite being the most plentiful in terms of episodes. One solution to both issues that British producers have found is selling a programme's format; the BBC sitcom The Office ran for just two six-episode series in the UK but ran for nine seasons and 214 episodes on NBC.

Survey respondents see Asia, and China in particular, as offering the greatest growth potential. Sales to China were up 81%, although the low volumes are out of proportion with the size of the country. The same could be said of Japan, the second biggest TV market in the world but worth just £11m to UK producers last year.


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