The UK’s TV exports: Universally Loved

The UK is one of the world’s most successful TV industries, known for its trendsetting formats and globally-renowned shows. It’s no surprise that UK TV exports made an impressive £1.48 billion ($1.97 billion) last year.

But how does a show go from UK classic to worldwide icon?

When a show performs well domestically, the TV studios or producers look to sell it on to international markets. This way, other countries can add the show to their own channels or adapt the format for their own markets.

With shows like Planet Earth, The Chase and Strictly Come Dancing featuring among the UK’s favourites, it makes sense that studios would want to replicate this success abroad.

As more and more UK shows start to pop up across the globe, online casino Betway felt it was time to take a closer look at the landscape. We’ve scoured through scripted dramas, game shows and reality TV formats to find the most popular UK TV exports.

How much money does the UK make from its TV exports?

UK TV exports made a staggering £1.48 billion worldwide in 2020. Completed TV shows – like Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Planet Earth – contributed a whopping 70 per cent of export sales, surpassing £1bn and making them the UK industry’s largest source of income.

International adaptations of popular UK formats, such as Love Island and Come Dine With Me, secured the second largest at £160 million ($223 million) – 11 per cent of total sales.

Here’s how these TV export sales break down into individual markets:

The US is the UK’s leading export market, with revenue in 2020 totalling £466 million ($649 million). North America is the most profitable territory, with an overall revenue of £572 million.

UK TV shows are clearly much-loved in many English-speaking countries, as Australia and Canada also feature in the top five export markets. With tried-and-tested UK shows, these markets can secure economic backing and easily localise the format to suit their audience.

When it comes to non-English speaking countries, France is the biggest market, generating £102 million in revenue, while the Nordic market spends £77 million.

Elsewhere, the Latin American and Asian markets have increased their UK TV exports by 13 and 15 percent respectively. This might be due to the rise of local streaming services – such as Brazil’s GloboPlay and Bilibili in China – that have opened up avenues for independent shows that were previously censored in these markets.

Which UK TV shows and formats have been remade worldwide?

A huge variety of UK programmes have made it onto the world stage, from period dramas and comedies to gameshows and reality series.

Scripted shows

Sitcoms, dramas and series all fall under the scripted show category. Here are some renowned UK shows that have been adapted into international variants:

  • The Office
  • Chernobyl
  • His Dark Materials
  • Doctor Foster
  • Misfits
  • Doctor Who
  • Luther

Many of these shows have seen great success, both on broadcast TV and streaming services, but it doesn’t always work this well.

Acclaimed UK shows like The Inbetweeners, Skins and Broadchurch failed to reach the same acclaim in the US as their UK counterparts. This is perhaps due to scripts remaining unchanged and simply not resonating with viewers.

Unscripted formats

Unscripted formats feature everything from reality dating shows to talent competitions. Some of the formats that have been sold to international markets include:

  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
  • Love Island
  • Got Talent
  • Strictly Come Dancing
  • Planet Earth
  • Great British Bake Off
  • Come Dine With Me
  • Gogglebox
  • First Dates

While scripted drama remains the biggest source of revenue for UK TV exports, the UK’s unscripted formats still perform strong. In fact, the UK is the top unscripted format producing country, making up 42 per cent of the format’s global export sales in 2020.

What are the most popular UK TV exports of all time?

With UK TV shows and formats increasing their popularity across the globe, we decided to see which exports are the biggest and most successful of all time. We divided the biggest UK TV exports into four categories:

  • Money-makers – formats and shows that make the most money.
  • Most-viewed – shows with the highest viewing figures.
  • Widest reach – formats that have been adapted into the most markets.
  • Better than the originals – adaptations that outperformed their UK counterparts.


The Great British Bake Off has been licensed to 26 international markets, from the USA and Denmark to Italy and France. It’s no wonder factual programmes accounted for 28 per cent of all UK export revenue in 2020.

The BBC’s Top Gear also lays claim to the biggest earning export, generating around £50 million in revenue each year from 214 territories, with a global audience of 350 million.

Most viewed

As the most-watched show on Netflix, accumulating 57 billion minutes of streaming in 2020 alone, The Office (US) is easily one of the most-viewed UK exports.

But it’s hard to compete with some of the UK’s unscripted formats. Dancing with the Stars – or Strictly Come Dancing in the UK – has screened more than 270 seasons across over 50 countries, generating an incredible 500 million viewers worldwide.

Widest reach

Studio-based reality talent shows remain one of the most in-demand formats, with Got Talent securing 78 global sales in 2020. Likewise, Strictly Come Dancing had 63 sales, while The X Factor and Idols both made 56 sales.

British period dramas have also proved a hit with international markets, as shows like Downtown Abbey and Vera secured sales in at least 250 territories. Classic crime series like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Midsomer Murders also raked in more than 200 sales each.

Better than the originals

While the initial six-episode season of The Office US matched the UK’s original script, it quickly picked up on the need for an Americanised storyline to suit the local market. This led to a 22-episode-long second season that brought in the views and paved the way for nine seasons of success.

Today, the American version boasts an impressive 8.9 star rating on IMDb, ranking 26th in terms of global popularity, while the UK counterpart places 558th with 8.5 stars.

When it comes to UK formats, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? has taken the world by storm, with more than 100 versions produced outside of the UK. It’s gained a lot of love in the US, with the 2020 reboot securing an average of 5.6 million viewers and finale audience of 6.5 million.

Contrast that with the 2018 revival of the UK series, featuring Jeremy Clarkson as the new host, which received 5.06 million viewers.

What does the future hold for UK TV exports?

The UK’s entertainment and media revenue is projected to rise over the next five years – from £71.3 billion in 2021 to £87.9 billion in 2025. This not only indicates an increase in the quality and quantity of UK shows, but also a boost in sales for TV exports.

The rise of subscription video on demand (SVOD) is also set to continue, with global subscriptions expected to hit 1.495 billion by 2026. This is good news for the UK industry, as these on-demand platforms currently account for 38 per cent of all international sales.

However, while Europe currently stands as the second biggest TV export market for the UK, this is likely to change in the coming years as the ramifications of Brexit take shape.

In fact, it’s already been revealed that the EU are keen to curb the dominance of UK television within the continent, to improve “cultural diversity” and give smaller shows from other countries a chance to prosper.

But, this also offers opportunity for the UK to build on its relationships with other export markets, such as the US, Latin America and Asia. Just look at Brazil’s GloboPlay, which signed a landmark deal with ITV Studios for more than 400 hours of UK shows in 2021.