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New streamers drive rise in UK exports to US but pandemic hits overall sales income

US buyers spent an extra £100m (US$131.9m) on UK TV content over the past year, taking the total to £574m and 46% of all UK programming sales income, according to the latest report by producers association Pact.

John McVay

In the year 2019/20, the US accounted for 32% of UK sales income, with the increase being attributed to the arrival of streaming newcomers Discovery+, HBO Max and Paramount+.

Overall, Pact found that sales of UK TV shows only dropped by 3.3% over the past year, despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent production shutdowns.

Of the total revenue earned by exports, which stood at £1.42bn (US$1.88bn) in 2020/21, a third of the income (33%) came from sales of library content over four years old, up from 22% on the previous year.

Drama was once again the most popular genre, making up 53% of export revenues, a 5% increase compared with last year. Michaela’s Coel’s BBC drama I May Destroy You and Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies’ It’s A Sin were among the most popular titles.

Elsewhere, factual content such as cooking competition series MasterChef and gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and entertainment programming like Love Island each accounted for 15% of sales. Kids’ shows and comedy series, meanwhile, contributed 3% and 9% respectively to overall export revenue.

Sales to streaming services continue to grow, making up nearly half (44%) of all finished programme sales, up from 35% in 2019/20.

Over half (56%) of the distributors surveyed by Pact, which included All3Media and Banijay, said they sold a finished programme to Netflix or Amazon’s Prime Video, while 50% said they struck finished-tape deals with Disney+ and 44% sold finished content to HBO Max.

Ranking second behind the US with exports of almost £100m (£94m) was Australia, followed by France with £73m and Canada with £70m.

Louise Pedersen

While the top four export markets remain unchanged from last year, Australia, Canada and France generated less income than in 2020, particularly the latter, where sales fell by £29m.

Besides the US, Spain has offered the biggest increase in export revenue, up £19m, rising to the seventh most lucrative market for the UK year-on-year.

Pact CEO John McVay said: “To post such a small reduction in exports despite the effects of the pandemic on the UK TV industry is further evidence of how resourceful producers have been throughout the pandemic to not only keep their businesses afloat but to continue to bring quality, entertaining content to audiences around the world.”

Louise Pederson, CEO of All3Media International, added: “The resilience, energy and ingenuity of the UK production and distribution industry is remarkable and a genuine asset in the UK’s creative industries sector.”

Paul Dempsey, president of global distribution at BBC Studios, the commercial arm of the UK pubcaster, said: “British television is loved by audiences around the world and even when the pandemic interrupted new production, our rich back catalogue has kept viewers everywhere entertained.”

Ruth Berry, MD of global distribution at UK broadcaster ITV’s production and sales arm ITV Studios, said: “As an industry, we have collectively risen to the challenge of providing our partners across the world with quality UK programming during the pandemic, and it’s wonderful to see the global desire for British television remains so strong.”

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