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Analysis: BBC defies UK commissioning downturn

March 25, 2024

By Colin Mann

A report from Ampere Analysis reveals an 18 per cent decline in 2023 in the UK’s market for scripted TV commissions (Drama, Sci-Fi, Crime & Thriller, etc.) as major UK broadcasters cut spend and most global SVoDs trimmed investment in international content.

Changes in consumer behaviour and a weak advertising market saw pay-TV operators and commercial free-to-air broadcasters slash scripted commissions. UK scripted commissioning activity fell by 48 per cent at local pay-TV operators, 36 per cent at commercial free-to-air broadcasters, and 21 per cent at SVoD services. However, the BBC’s scripted commissions remained stable with the public service broadcaster focusing on Kids, Family and Crime genres and ramping up literary adaptations and multiple-episode series orders.

The BBC maintained its level of scripted commissions

As other players reduced their scripted commissioning activity, the BBC managed to maintain constant levels, increasing its share of UK scripted TV commissions to 50 per cent last year.

Early in 2023, the broadcaster announced a raft of cost-saving measures in response to the licence fee freeze and wider economic pressures. One of the actions was to cut 1,000 hours of original programming annually and trim spending on original content. However, the impact of these reductions has initially been felt by reductions in cheaper-to-produce unscripted programming.

A change of genre: Children & Family up, Comedy down

As the BBC tackled budgetary pressures, changes in the scripted commissioning strategy of 2023 can be seen versus prior years. Children & Family grabbed the most orders of the BBC’s scripted commissions, up by 23 per cent year-on-year. Crime & Thriller titles were up 16 per cent. Comedy fell out of favour, enduring a 27 per cent drop. It was the most heavily impacted of all scripted genres in 2023 with an overall decline of 41 per cent among UK commissioners

As the Corporation responds to evolving media consumption, it is making the switch from one-episode specials to a multiple-episode content strategy to expand its iPlayer audience and satisfy VoD binge-watching. As a result, the proportion of BBC commissions which were one-episode specials dropped to just 7.5 per cent, its lowest for five years.

In another risk-mitigation move, the BBC increased its investment in IP with an existing following. Roughly a fifth of BBC scripted commissions last year were book adaptations.

The opportunities for co-commissioning

Favoured by many other European broadcasters, co-commissioning offers cost-sharing potential that the BBC could further explore. Last year, 13 per cent of the BBC’s scripted commissions ordered were co-commissions. Co-commissions involve trade-offs around control of rights, but may offer cost-efficiencies. German broadcaster ZDF uses co-commissioning more extensively, with over 30 per cent of its scripted output co-commissioned. The BBC’s late 2022 co-production deal with Disney Branded Television for Doctor Who offers an idea of how funding for high-end scripted commissioning could evolve in the UK.

“As media consumption patterns continue to change, commissioning strategies are evolving,” advises Zuzana Henkova, Senior Analyst at Ampere Analysis. “While commercial operators and broadcasters adapt to pressures on consumer spend and a tough advertising landscape, public service broadcasters have maintained their commissioning activity. This is undoubtedly one of the strengths of the public funding model. As all broadcasters look for new ways to optimise their output, we expect to see the BBC continuing to explore partnerships and co-commissioning to stretch budgets for valuable – but expensive – scripted commissions.”

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