The catchphrase “Fire up the Lada,” could soon by sweeping Russia. The BBC has licensed the hit TV series Life on Mars, which turned actor Philip Glenister’s politically incorrect DCI Gene Hunt into one of the nation’s best loved TV characters, to be remade in the former Soviet Union and the action will be relocated from 1970s Manchester to communist Moscow.
The BBC’s announcement comes as figures from the UK Television Exports survey show that the world’s appetite for British television is booming.
The success of formats such as Strictly Come Dancing, and The X Factor as well as dramas like Downton Abbey and Sherlock have led to a 13% rise in export revenues to more than £1.4bn in the last year.
The first series of ITV1’s Downton Abbey, which recounted the trials and tribulations of servants and masters in an Edwardian country house, has now been sold to more than 100 countries around the globe. BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm, said that Life on Mars had been licensed to Russia’s Channel One broadcaster, after similar remakes in the US and Spain.
The annual TV export report, published by the TV producers’ alliance Pact and the government trade body UK Trade Investment, shows that UK TV sales to Russia are growing faster than sales to any other country. Revenue climbed 54% to £13m in 2010. The report also showed a 20% growth in Canada and 13% in the USA for 2010 compared to the year before.
It is not yet known how in the forthcoming Russian version John Simm’s time travelling policeman character will negotiate the differences between modern day Russia and its USSR past.
London-based Valentina Shpakova, who works in Russian television, said programmes with a nostalgic edge are extremely popular with Russian viewers: “The idea [of Life on Mars] seems quite interesting, and it’s definitely not something we have on our television so far.
“We have quite a lot of programmes on Russian television looking back to the 70s and 80s talking about that era and running the music from that time”
In 2008, the American ABC network bought rights to the show and Harvey Keitel starred as the abrasive Gene Hunt. But the show was cancelled after two seasons.
While overseas production of UK formats increased from £37m in 2009 to £81m last year, exports of finished programming is a far bigger business. Revenue from ready-to-screen TV was up 15% over the year to £657m.
However the report does not represent an entirely rosy picture of Britain’s TV export scene. It claims the tendency of British commissioners to finance projects with a handful of episodes – as opposed to US commissions which can run into more than 20 episodes for a drama – is hampering development.
“The low number of episodes per run and a lack of long-running series, particularly when competing against US and Australian content, were seen to be the major obstacles to international sales,” the report said.
While US network HBO has commissioned a 13-episode run for every series of Mad Men, the BBC’s The Hour, which was seen as the British response to the US hit show, ran for only six episodes in its first series.
The report also hinted that the development of more parochial British programmes could be increasingly dumped in future in favour of more exportable products. “Growth of international sales are sometimes hindered by overly domestic content. However some programme makers are now responding to the need for series to have international appeal.”
John McVay, Pact’s chief executive, said: “Once again the UK Television Exports Survey shows strong year-on-year growth – but just as importantly – we’re seeing significant growth in new markets and territories too. These results show that the world is still seeking great formats and programmes of the quality that UK producers are renowned for.”
Nick Blair, chief executive of UK Trade Investment, added: “These figures illustrate the world-class strengths and reputation of the UK television industry and reflect the ongoing support provided by UK Trade Investment.
“Both our TV formats, like Dancing with the Stars and X Factor and finished programmes, such as Downton Abbey and Sherlock are increasingly enjoyed by audiences across the globe. The heightened demand for our programmes from emerging, high-growth economies such as Russia is particularly encouraging.”
Last year revenue generated by sales of UK programmes and format ideas increased to £1.4bn from £1.3bn in 2009
North America represented 42% of total UK export revenue in 2010, with Europe contributing 31% and the rest of the world 27%
The biggest buyer of UK television remains the US where sales grew by 13% to £526m in 2010 from £465m in 2009
Sales to Canada sales rose from £61m in 2009 to £73m in 2010, a 20% year-on-year increase
Selling rights to produce UK formats earned £81m last year, up from £37m in 2009
Ready-to-screen TV sold abroad in 2010 raised £657m, up 15%