Advanced Television

Report: Commissioning continues amid pandemic

May 14, 2020

British PSBs (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5) have commissioned 85 original shows during the lockdown, while six further commission have come from non-PSBs.

A further 26 logged commissions originated from American SVoDs and US networks tracked by Broadcast Intelligence.

The largest portion of PSB Covid-19 programming (including digital and regional channels) has come out of factual, specialist factual and current affairs departments, making up a total of 34 greenlights.

A close second is children’s; however, it should be noted that all children’s content has so far been commissioned by the BBC alone.

The data showed that the PSBs initially tracked high in the factual and current affairs genres – fulfilling their public mandate to inform and advise.

However, when the government imposed the lockdown, this saw a marked shift. Since this point the British broadcasters have commissioned an array of light-hearted content, aimed primarily to entertain.

Within this the PSB’s have ordered replacement programming for cancelled music and sporting live events, talent-shot factual entertainment isolation shows and dipped their toes into scripted.

Broadcast Intelligence’s Programme Index logged 348 newly announced shows from February 28th to April 29th, 104 of which were recorded as being either related to the coronavirus outbreak or being produced using production techniques which adhere to social distancing measures.


Since the 28th of February, the BBC (including digital and regional channels) have announced the highest number of programmes related to or adapted for the Covid-19 outbreak. The BBC greenlit 54 programmes to be produced under lockdown, out of a total announced commissions count of 112. The PSB eclipsed its closest rival, Channel 4 who tallied just 31 greenlights over the same period.

BBC1 commissioned roughly a third of these (14) while iPlayer or online departments were involved in a further seven.

The BBC also announced a 24-programme slate of children’s programming on April 28, aimed at helping entertain and educate children during lockdown. These 24 shows were commissioned entirely by Cbeebies and CBBC commissioners.


Within two days of the British government announcing a countrywide lockdown, Channel 4 released a slate which they called their Lockdown Academy. Featuring a range of programming in both factual entertainment and current affairs. Channel 4 commissioners made it clear they still had a strong commissioning appetite.

The broadcaster greenlit a total of 23 programmes either related to or adapted for the Coronavirus crisis. The Race Against the Virus, coming out of the Specialist Factual department, was greenlit as early as the February 28th. The show marked the first announced British programme explicitly focusing on Covid-19 that did not fall under news programming; setting a precedent.

Of the 23 programmes, 15 have been factual and listed by Broadcast Intelligence as either current affairs, factual or specialist factual. Most commissions look at the implications of the virus and offer hard facts and journalism. Grayson’s Art Club is an exception to this, while still commissioned from the specialist factual department, the series is an art show which teaches people in lockdown how to create art from home.


ITV was the first PSB to announce a drama commission, Isolation Stories. The drama shorts comprise four individual stories reflecting what families are going through after weeks of lockdown, the episodes will be filmed in the homes of the actors.

ITV and its digital channels commissioned 13 shows related to the pandemic, fewer than its counterparts. They have instead focused efforts on upping news coverage on the schedule. Total ITV greenlights since February 28th stand at 26, with exactly half of all shows announced being non-coronavirus related or affected.

In the past two months the broadcaster has greenlit seven programmes across current affairs and factual which relate to the virus, including a weekly current affair show hosted by ITV journalist Nina Hossain titled Coronavirus Q&A. 

Channel 5 

Channel 5 is the only PSB thus far not to have announced any Covid-19-related programming or shows which will be filmed using lockdown-adapted techniques. Director of programmes for Channel 5, Ben Frow said in a BBC Radio 4 interview that he is “concerned about what TV will look like in six months,” adding “I don’t want all of our shows to feel as if they were filmed during a crisis”.

Instead Channel 5 have been continuing to commission in the channel’s usual genres and subjects including history, the royals and British societal docs. Channel 5 greenlight a total of eight shows in the same time frame, a stark reduction of hours from the pre-coronavirus conditions.

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