Dec. 21 - British television drama Downton Abbey is proving a commercial success, boosting viewing figures, revenue and reputation for the UK's biggest broadcaster ITV. Hayley Platt reports.
It took Britain by storm after first hitting television screens three years ago. Since then Downton Abbey - a period drama set around the time of the first world war - has become a global phenomenon. But it's success came as a surprise, at a time when some traditional broadcasters were struggling to engage audiences. Not least ITV, the UK's biggest commercial network. They commissioned Carnival Films to make the series. Gareth Neame is the show's executive producer. SOUNDBITE: Gareth Neame, Executive Producer, Downton Abbey, saying (English): "We've set a show in a very recognisably English genre, it's a genre that can't be done in America and isn't really done anywhere else in the world, it's expressly our territory, and there's a lot of interest in that world. How the class system worked and how aristocrats lived and its entire environment so it's a very recognisable familiar territory but we have spun it in a very contemporary fashion." Downton has become Britain's biggest television export after being sold to more than 100 countries, with more revenue being generated by DVD sales. It was number two in Australia, and is popular in Spain, not traditionally a big buyer of British programming. It's success has since sparked a series of other period dramas. SOUNDBITE: Gareth Neame, Executive Producer, Downton Abbey, saying (English): "I think it's probably given producers confidence in historical settings that historical settings don't have to be old fashioned or stayed or reverential or any of those things. You can have a modern told, fast paced, contemporary show set in the past. Downton I know is referenced all the time in Hollywood as a different kind of show from what people are used to." It has also been instrumental in turning around ITV's fortunes, says Informa's media analyst Stewart Clarke. SOUNDBITE: Stewart Clarke, Editor, Television Business International/Informa, saying (English): "It was the right show at the right time for them in terms of ratings and they've enjoyed great success off the back of that and there's a clear commercial benefit in terms of advertising revenue which is of course a commercial broadcasters lifeblood." A fourth series and a Christmas special are on the way. But there have been rumours the show could lose some its key stars after a flood of Hollywood offers. Neame wouldn't comment. A golden age being threatened by outside forces... now that's a theme Downton fans would surely understand.