Sales Bonanza: British TV Show Exports Fetch Record $2.25B With Finished Tape Deals Back In Fashion

British TV shows fetched a record £1.85B ($2.25B) in 2022-23, new stats reveal.

Sales to streamers boomed and finished tape deals came back into fashion to help exports grow 22% year-on-year, Pact‘s UK TV Exports Report revealed.

Demand for shows such as The Ipcress Files, Frozen Planet II and This England built even as the international TV business faced a brutal economy, a battered TV ad market and major buyers withholding spend. Half of respondents said their business was impacted by the period of austerity and cost management at large U.S. companies.

For the first time, over half of programmes (53%) were sold to international streaming and VoD platforms, up from 39% last year. This could be connected to the growth in finished program sales, with streamers more likely to license as they pulled away from costlier original content spend.

Finished programmes accounted for 60% of sales, up by 11% to hit £1.11B, exceeding the £1B mark for the first time. Format sales of shows such as The Traitors increased by 22% and co-production deals were up a whopping 69%. 

With U.S. buyers in cost-saving mode, growth was flat. While the States remains the largest buyer of UK content, contributing £525M (or 28%) of the total, this is remains below pre-Covid levels and is par with the 11% decline of 2021-22. Overall, North American accounted for 38% of sales, up 14% year-on-year.

Several European markets experienced growth of over 20%, with Spain growing by a massive 79% to £40M, Italy increasing by 21% to £38M and Germany moving into third place behind Australia after rising 26% to deliver £108M. Just outside of the top ten biggest spenders, South Africa grew 66% to £23m.

Other key stats: Scripted drama remained the key driver of international content sales for UK companies, representing 49% of revenue, followed by entertainment (21%) and factual (18%).

Quizzed on what will impact distribution of UK content internationally in the year ahead, every single respondents cited a lack of financing support from commissioners. The UK has been grappling with a commissioning downturn, with Channel 4 understood to have moved up to 50 shows into 2024, for example.

Increased production costs were a concern for 91% of respondents, while 73% expect the growing market for FAST (Free Ad-Supported TV) channels to impact the market.

“These strong sales figures highlight yet again that UK indies continue to produce quality TV programmes that the rest of the world want to watch,” John McVay OBE, Pact CEO. “However, we anticipate that this is likely to be an exceptional year and that next year’s report will reflect the current global financial uncertainty and rising production costs.”

Bob McCourt, COO, Commercial and International, Fremantle, said: “Despite the wider industry headwinds, Fremantle has once again delivered another extremely strong performance. Our stellar IP and powerful content line-up across entertainment, drama, film and documentaries has once again proven popular with global buyers. Telling compelling stories, and working with world-class talent from across the globe to deliver irresistible entertainment is central to all we do at Fremantle. We are proud to be able to share these incredible stories and our vast entertainment catalogue with our valued clients and partners, delivering a strong performance as we head into 2024.” 

Reaction from the sector

Rebecca Glashow, CEO, Global Distribution, BBC Studios, said: “I am very proud of our BBC Studios team and our continued leadership in bringing the very best of British content to the world. Even through a period of disruption in the marketplace, we are seeing an appetite for high-quality content around the world, from Frozen Planet II, to Serengeti and Top Gear to name a few. We are very fortunate to have one of the strongest content portfolios in the business. We have a deep library of content across all genres that appeal to a range of customer and audience needs around the world.”

Louise Pedersen, CEO, All3Media International, said: “The record growth across the export sector should be celebrated, with UK revenues at their highest level since this survey began at £1.85B. It’s encouraging to see the UK’s format exports growing strongly and we’re delighted that A3MI’s breakout global hit The Traitors has played its part in that. In line with the survey results All3MI saw increased sales and co-production activity in Germany, reflected in its third place in the UK’s export rankings. 

“The current landscape does have challenges however – U.S. buyer budgets have been impacted over recent months and this, together with high production costs has made financing shows more risky. Yet overall, this is a sector that is remains confident in its skills and that has learnt to adapt quickly to market changes, bringing significant revenues back to the wider UK television production and creative industries.”

Ruth Berry, Managing Director, Global Partnerships, ITV Studios, said: “Despite the challenges and uncertainties of the past year, it’s great to see growth is at an all-time high, proving that British television continues to be loved globally. That said, we’re acutely aware buyers and commissioners have become more discerning than ever and only the very best content will cut through. ITV Studios’ portfolio including the gripping real-life series Litvinenko, nail-biting thriller The Suspect and the immensely stylish drama The Ipcress File, all of which have aired in 100+ countries, were able to meet those high expectations.”

Fremantle, BBC Studios, ITV Studios and All3Media International sponsor the report, which is undertaken by TV analysis firm 3Vision. More than 20 UK distributors were asked bout their international sales and any challenges they have faced in the past year, as well those they expect to face in future.

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