The US has been making its own versions of British content for many years. While The Office (US) is the most globally recognised series adapted from a British concept, there has also been success stateside with the adaptations of Skins, Shameless and, to a degree, The Inbetweeners.
Often re-imagining programming to make it more locally relevant, through recognisable accents, locations or cultural preferences, leads to greater success as audiences are able to more easily identify.
But more recently, American audiences have been drawn to the same content as households across the UK. Shows like The Crown, Peaky Blinders, and Downton Abbey have enjoyed success in mainstream US culture, which raises the question of what exactly makes them so appealing to our friends across the Atlantic?
Unfortunately, as with many industries during the last two years of restrictions and lockdowns, film and TV production has been adversely affected. Simultaneously, the pressure for fresh content has increased.
Productions fell by approximately 20% during the height of restrictions, yet demand for content increased by 47 minutes across all platforms per day.
This has created demand and an opportunity for British content in global markets; US households have an average of 3.1 subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) accounts and so the fight for attention is much higher than for UK audiences who keep an average of 2.3 SVOD services.
Almost three-quarters (70%) of international audiences associate British attributes as a mark of high-quality premium content, creating a natural demand and inclination for viewing of UK content.
For some, British television is still a novelty, with Jodie Whitaker charming American audiences as Doctor Who, despite throwing subtitle writers for a loop with her Northern accent! Across both SVOD platforms and broadcast channels, this interest has increased considerably with recent acquisitions for broadcast including All Creatures Great and Small (originally Channel 5), Poldark and Little Women (from BBC) by American public broadcaster, PBS.
There is also a behavioural explanation behind the hunger for British content. The past two years have been a somewhat turbulent time for Americans, with British period dramas helping them cope with what was going on around them seeming surreal at times. PBS even lists its UK content as “Comforting British Dramas” on its website, for those “in need of comfort, warmth, and escape from reality.”
Shop windows for streaming
Netflix has been a champion of British content creation and distribution internationally, with many shows being nominated for awards – The Crown, Sex Education and Bridgerton all having featured in lists for Emmys, Golden Globes and SAG awards and putting UK content on the map.
They have been a major commissioner of UK original productions, having invested $1bn (£779m) in them in 2020 and 2021 respectively. The Crown (season four), Sex Education (season two) and Bridgerton were among more than 50 shows produced in UK by Netflix in 2020, putting the SVOD provider’s total output of UK originals to 123 by April 2021.
Audiences appreciate variety and flexibility of viewing choice which is why the fight for attention is so fraught and contested – in fact 30% of US demand is now foreign content with UK content driving this shift and Netflix deeming the content “cultural diffusion”.
Shifting partnerships and dynamics makes the access and sharing of content easier for certain parties – Sky’s ownership by Comcast makes programme sharing on its sister platform Peacock seamless whilst its deal with both Netflix and Disney+ integration with SkyQ also offers an easy transition opportunity. Some channels act as a “shop window” for its parent SVOD service, Discovery, for example, maintains its linear presence as a signpost to its comprehensive SVOD service.
Programming, from any source, will continue to be the stalwart of any SVOD provider’s plan because a continually refreshed and interesting catalogue will be the most important means of reducing or preventing customer churn.
Looking to the future, demand for foreign, particularly British content, is likely to continue to grow, not just in the US, but globally as streaming platforms expand to new markets. UK content producers need to be tracking what these emerging markets are looking for and how their content will translate. There are a lot of eyes out there craving the next binge-worthy show, and British content could be just what they’re looking for.
This article was written by our head of broadcast, Becca Candeland and was originally published in Mediatel.