International demand for gritty Welsh-language thrillers have helped boost global sales of UK TV shows to £1.5bn.
From Happy Valley to Come Dine With Me, British television is enjoying a post-pandemic revival with sales to the US, the world’s biggest TV market, reaching £510m last year, according to production body Pact.
China and India were the biggest growth markets whilst sales to the Nordics region hit £92m.
Wales is an increasingly important contributor to the UK total after discovering a facility for selling “noir” drama back to Scandinavia, the genre’s home.
The Light in the Hall (Y Golau in Welsh), a thriller premiered on Welsh language-channel S4C, following three characters connected by the murder of a teenage girl in a small Welsh town, will now be screened to viewers across Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Streaming platform Britbox signed a pan-Scandinavia deal for the English/Welsh language series starring Alexandra Roach and Joanna Scanlan, produced in association with Channel 4 and the US subscription service, Sundance Now. The drama has also been bought by channels in France, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland.
Wales’ beautiful but bleak landscapes have proved fertile backdrops for atmospheric dramas that appeal to Nordic viewers – an exchange which began with Hinterland, a police thriller bought by DR Denmark, the network behind The Killing.
Netflix has also commissioned its first Welsh-language production, a crime drama called Dal y Mellt (Catch The Lightning).
Benjamin King, Netflix’s head of policy, said he expected a global audience for Dal y Mellt, filmed in Cardiff, Holyhead and Porthmadog, to have global appeal because depictions of Wales and Welsh culture “travel extremely well”.
Another popular S4C series 35 Diwrnod (35 Days), which follows the days in the lead up to the death of a character, is now being remade in India.
The shows, often shot in Welsh and English-language versions, have tapped into a cultural affinity between Wales and Scandinavia, believes Gwenllian Gravelle, S4C’s head of scripted drama.
She told i: “We both have stunning and varied landscapes. The weather can be brutal and that adds to the atmosphere and dark narratives and I also believe we share a similar gallows humour.”
Ms Gravelle added: “The Nordic countries are famous for their folk culture, including expressions such as music and dance, farming, fairy tales, folklore and festivals. We have a rich history of storytelling, whether that be in the chapel or in the local pubs.”
“The Welsh language, people and distinct personality means that Wales itself becomes a character in any show that is made here.”
Welsh drama will be high on the list of acquisitions when more than 500 of the world’s leading TV buyers descend upon the UK next week for the London TV Screenings, a week of private showcases of upcoming UK shows designed to encourage international purchasers to open their cheque-books.
Ruth Berry, head of global commercial divisions at ITV Studios, said: “If you asked a buyer where British TV is leading the world they would probably say scripted drama. We’ve sold Bodyguard to 196 territories and (submarine drama) Vigil is also a big success. There’s something about the six-part episodic UK series that translates really well.”
“Streaming platforms need more content than a broadcast TV schedule and that’s another opportunity for British producers,” added Ms Berry.
One of the “buzz” shows at the screenings is This Town, the latest drama from Steven Knight, creator of Peaky Blinders and SAS Rogue Heroes.
The BBC show, being distributed internationally by Banijay Rights, is set in Coventry and Birmingham at the end of the 70s and tells the story of four young people who are drawn into the world of ska and two-tone music.
The presence of Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame in a starring role should encourage foreign buyers to invest in a series telling the story of a distinctly British youth movement.
The BBC is taking over Leicester Square for its own programme showcase, entertaining buyers from the US, Europe, Asia, South Africa and Australia.
BBC Studios will be promoting sales of natural history shows including Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth III and a new game-show format Breaking Point, “a visually stunning and highly entertaining show, in which two teams of celebrity duos attempt to predict the exact dramatic moment when something will explode, break, crash or smash.”
Hybrid shows mixing history and drama are becoming popular. Royal Mob, a Sky History series portraying 19th century history through the eyes of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughters, made by producers Nutopia, has been snapped up the major international distributor, eOne.
Programme buyers are now involved in the creation of hits, not just acquiring the finished article. “With drama costs rising due to inflation, production partners want to get involved at the script stage to make sure a show will work for their viewers,” Ms Berry said.
“At the screenings, buyers will meet the writers and creators of new shows so they are involved much earlier in the process.”
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