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According to the UK Television Exports Report, UK television sales to international markets were up 10% between 2014/15 and 2015/16. Although the US remains the biggest market for those entertaining exports, China is the fastest-growing. Digital rights sales were up 79%, and made up about a fifth of the roughly 1.3 billion GBP in total television exports.
If you enjoy data, you can download the full report here.
What does this mean for those of us who love British television?
It's hard to say, really. I'd guess that one of the most probable outcome is that we'll continue to see new and improved means of consumption. Acorn, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, and Britbox are all wonderful, but they still have their quirks. That's especially true of Britbox, what with its wonky Roku app and slightly awkward web navigation. Acorn has gotten better, but I still find that the subtitles get out of sync if I try to rewind (I love the subtitles when I'm cooking/baking and things get noisy). With any luck, more interest will mean more investment in the platforms themselves.
I also suspect availability of programming will grow – and that's something we're already starting to see. Britbox is opening up next-day availability for some shows, along with a number of shows that haven't been offered on other streaming services. In just the last month or so, Netflix has added episodes of Escape the Country (a British house-hunting show that was previously only available through questionably legal uploads on Youtube). There are a lot of shows you still can't find short of buying DVDs, though, so hopefully this increased interest will convince companies to make their back catalogs more widely available through streaming outlets.
With any luck, it will also spur new development and increased output. I'd love to see more shows overall, and more episodes of the good ones. Then again, television is difficult. If you've read many unproduced screenplays, you'll have a pretty good idea of just how bad most people are when it comes to writing shows and movies. Are there a lot of talented people in the UK who just haven't gotten their big break? Or have they already put their most talented writers, directors and crew members to work? I really can't say.
But is it all good news?
As I hear that British television is becoming more popular, there's just one thing that concerns me – the possibility that British TV could become more like American TV. We live in an age of technology and data, and it wouldn't take that much effort for a handful of people to figure out exactly which kinds of shows generate the most income, and then try to duplicate that over and over and over…
At present, British TV is delightful precisely because they're not as concerned with every show being a massive blockbuster. They're not as formulaic, and the characters aren't always young and highly photogenic. They don't dumb down their comedy to make it more accessible to a worldwide audience. Lower costs and shorter seasons (not to mention government funding) allow for risks we just don't take here in the US (with the possible exception of Netflix or Amazon original programming).
What do you think? Will increased popularity be a great thing for those of us who appreciate British television? Will popularity and money ultimately be its downfall? Or does the real answer fall somewhere in between?