A look across the pond, American TV in British Waters

Categories: Featured,TV Ratings

Written By

August 28th, 2009

This post is courtesy of long-time TVbytheNumbers reader Fin, who is very interested in the ratings of shows from the US when they air in the UK.

He's just started (literally yesterday) his own blog, where he will focus from time-to-time on what's going on with American TV in the UK.  Here, he takes an in-depth look at how shows from the US performed on his side of the pond during the most recent season.

Enjoy.

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A LOOK AT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE POND, AMERICA IN BRITISH WATERS

Hello I’m Fin, I like to watch a lot of TV (though generally just over a short time span – I just finished the first four seasons of LOST in a week – and wow it was good). Though I appreciate English TV (I like Being Human) I find it lacks the budget to engage me (especially when it’s obliviously a crap set – I’m looking at you Doctor Who). So there something about me...

As the latest American TV season has come to an end, across the pond most US shows aired in the UK have finished their seasonal run. (Albeit some aired late are being aired into the fall). Since there is less to talk about in the summer I thought that looking into how international airings can help a show or even just looking at how a favourite show is seen over in another country would be interesting.   The country I have picked is the UK (mostly because it can pay more than Canada) as the UK has a higher exchange rate, it can pay for up to 32% of some show’s budget (if that show has a $2.5 million budget for instance and the UK broadcaster pays £400,000 which is not uncommon), shows like Heroes, LOST, 24, the Simpsons and Desperate Housewives can give $789,000 or more an episode for the respective Studios. Indeed international airings have helped shows (Keifer Sutherland from 24 seems to think so) in America to continue despite a ratings slump in the US (the same with Heroes and Japan).

Channel Show UK Viewership (Millions) Previous

Seasonal

Viewership

Studio
FIVE CSI: Crime Scene Investigation 3.48 3.60 CBS Productions
BBC TWO(+ THREE) HEROES * 3.26 3.81 Universal Studios
FIVE CSI: MIAMI 3.17 2.64 CBS Productions
FIVE THE Mentalist 2.87 N/A Warner  Bros.
FIVE

FIVE

CSI: NY

NCIS

2.66 3.00

2.51

CBS Productions
CHANNEL4 (+E4/+1) Desperate Housewives* 2.50 2.48 ABC Studios
CHANNEL4  (+E4/+1) UGLY BETTY* 2.09 2.09 ABC Studios
ITV PUSHING DAISIES 1.17 3.78 Warner  Bros.

The first table is of shows that air on the main five networks so they will automatically get higher viewership than those aired on digital or cable channels.

These are the main shows aired in the UK on broadcast television (although there are shows like E.R. and Law & Order but their timeslots are so bad it’s hard to find their numbers). This season’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation seems to be the number #1 watched show in the UK for 2009 (at least for now I wonder if Flashpoint premiere’s in the autumn that will change), it seems the quality slump for Heroes has pushed it off being the number #1 show for two years in a row (it was #1 in 2008 and 2007).

Ugly Betty seems to struggling since its been off air for months (its low season two ratings and Channel 4 replacing it with Dirty Sexy Money, then Big Brother coming again seem to have left almost 7 months hiatus since the season two finale) and although Ugly Betty is doing as good as season two its only just started and has a lot more episodes on the way. The same can be said for CSI: Miami.

The Mentalist CBS’s surprise hit did very well in the UK premiering to 4.21 million viewer (although the latest episodes have fallen to around 2.5 million) it still did well enough for FIVE to cancel its contract to HOUSE and replace it with The Mentalist (House moved to SkyOne).

Pushing Daisies which was received in the UK much like it was in the US during its first season, amazing reviews but not many viewers stuck around during its first season with 6.36 million at the premiere and ending with 2.70 million viewers. Of course season two’s viewership was hurt by two major things.

  • Firstly when Pushing Daisies first season aired it was on Saturday’s which at the time of its airing where in full flow, with ITV airings it best.  So moving to Fridays 10:00pm which like in the states is used for dying or weak shows where less is expected. Of course Pushing Daisies performed worse than was bad on Fridays (which is hard) and was moved to 11:35pm where ratings fell below 1mil. In all fairness Pushing Daisies like with the states was given nil to none promotion by either ITV or ABC so blame can go either way (and I find it hard to point blame at an amazing show like Pushing Daisies)
  • Furthermore when it was on Saturday at the time it was given the flow of Britain’s Got Talent viewers which can rise to almost 11million viewers so its timeslot was very cosy indeed.

Desperate Housewives actually increased over the second half of its fifth season which is something the show certainly struggles with in the US. Its seems its timeslot of Wednesday 10:00pm has become the flagship imported show timeslot for Channel 4 (with Ugly Betty now airing there).

Heroes: the numbers used to make Heroes average viewership per episode are made up by two airings.  BBC Two will air an episode at 9:00pm (which mostly pulls in around 2million), but as BBC Three airs next week’s episode an hour later I felt that the million or so viewers who watch the pre-airing beforehand should be included in the show’s viewership, as BBC Three’s airing is not a repeat I felt it has a right to be included.

Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty: Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty both have a similar system used as Heroes (they are pre-aired on Sunday by E4) but Channel 4 also has a +1 channel which airs the shows an hour later, as the adverts are the same I felt this should also be used in making an episodes overall viewership.

Channel Show Latest UK  Average Viewership Previous

Seasonal

Viewership

Studio
SkyOne LOST 1.13 1.18 ABC Studios
BBC THREE Family Guy 0.91 0.74 20th Century FOX
SkyOne

ITV2

House

Supernatural*

0.87 2.17

0.77

Universal Studios

Warner  Bros.

SkyOne Bones 0.83 0.84 20th Century FOX
SkyOne 24 0.70 0.54 20th Century FOX
SkyOne Lie To Me 0.64 N/A 20th Century FOX
Living Ghost Whisperer* 0.63 0.66 ABC Studios
Living Grey’s Anatomy* 0.61 0.53 ABC Studios
SkyOne Fringe 0.60 N/A Warner  Bros.
Living America’s Next Top Model* 0.57 N/A N/A
Living Criminal Minds* 0.56 0.52 CBS Productions
Living Eleventh Hour* 0.38 N/A Granada Productions
Sci-Fi  UK Knight Rider* 0.37 N/A Universal Studios
Virgin 1 Terminator: TSCC* 0.36 0.57 Warner  Bros.
Virgin 1 Chuck* 0.33 0.35 Warner  Bros.
Living Private Practise* 0.33 0.35 ABC Studios
Sci-Fi  UK Dollhouse* 0.32 N/A Mutant Enemy Productions
Sci-Fi  UK Eli Stone* 0.26 0.22 ABC Studios
Living Lipstick Jungle* 0.24 0.27 Universal Studios
Sci-Fi  UK My Own Worst Enemy* 0.08 N/A Universal Studios

This second table depicts shows aired mostly on cable channels and some on freeview, channels that have fewer viewers than the main five.

These are the main shows aired in the UK on cable or freeview, despite having less viewers it is important to note that a cable channel like SkyOne pays up to £500,000 for an episode of one show, an example is 24 or LOST (which it stole the rights from Channel 4). Thus, high numbers on cable channels can still mean a lot of money for American production companies.  Although I won’t go in to detail on these shows I will say a few things. The few shows have done badly in the US have reflected this in the UK (I’m looking at you My Own Worst Enemy).  Another is that as UK cable channels (apart from SkyOne and E4) struggle to produce original programming so rely heavily on imported American shows.  Thirdly and most sadly I do not have the ratings for E4 shows such as Smallville, 90210 or even Dirty Sexy Money (which when I did see the numbers did outstanding for an 11pm show on E4).  However I will be able to see the numbers of these shows in the future (I can’t now because they only stay around for say a week).

Shows with *: these shows have aired on plus +1 channels as well meaning that the numbers are often pushed up by being aired an hour later as well (but the same adverts) but only by around 200,000 viewers.

Side-Note:  As with many shows the numbers for some shows such as House or Ugly Betty will change (and I will update you on them) as they are still airing.

Information on ‘BARB’ and how it measures TV audiences:  BARB commissions contractors to provide research services, including the production of audience viewing figures, on its behalf. The audience measurement contracts are held by the following companies - RSMB, Ipsos MORI, AGB Nielsen Media Research and TNS.

BARB Gold Standard data generally refers to the consolidated data which incorporates live and timeshift viewing and is the official estimate of television viewing.

These averages taken over the course of a shows run were taken from Barb.co.uk, for around five to six shows there are gaps of one or two episodes (their episode rating is missing). However as these gaps will most likely have little difference to a shows general average I decided to leave the show in the table. These problems only occur with small cable shows (none on broadcast).

 
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