Emma Ayech on channel strategy for UKTV drama

UKTV had a record year of growth in 2021, with improved market shares across its portfolio of seven channels. Its drama channel, for its part, celebrated its best year ever, with adult share up 11% and ABC1 up 14% year-over-year. Drama and Alibi channel director Emma Ayech discusses the “winning formula” driving the earnings, the current programming strategy and the wish list for acquisitions.

TV drama: Dramas as a channel had an incredibly strong 2021. What is driving these gains and growth?
AYECH: Drama’s growth has come from a few different places. The channel has an incredibly loyal core audience and a very consistent offering; people know they can come for their classic soap operas in the morning, their nostalgic drama in the afternoon, their classic comedy at tea time and their favorite detective shows in full swing. It’s a winning formula, and the channel has been a reliable friend to viewers through the various lockdowns. However, we have also worked hard to keep Drama fresh for our viewers. Key additions have been contemporary classics like happy valley and Luthermore free premieres for the likes of Miss Scarlet and the Duke and Dial M for Middlesbroughin addition to our usual UK premiere, and drama-exclusive series like the New Zealand-based crime drama The Brokenwood Mysterys. We’ve also brought 2000s classics back to people’s screens, with all bad girls broadcast on linear as well as our UKTV Play VOD service.

TV drama: What is currently guiding Drama’s programming strategy?
AYECH: We listen to our audience, with regular focus groups and a keen eye on social conversations around the channel. We know they love the trusted archive preservation we provide, but they also have a huge appetite for new drama.

Our goal is to continue to grow our linear channel by always updating our archival content, as well as focusing more on drama premieres for our viewers. Alongside this, we want to continue to develop our UKTV Play on-demand service and ensure it gives viewers a deeper archive library to complement the linear channel, as well as a wider choice of content which can extend the brand into new areas to satisfy all tastes in drama. Our goal for drama on linear and non-linear services is unparalleled curation, providing viewers with a wide range of quality drama, old and new.

TV drama: How much of the dramatic slate comes from acquisitions?
AYECH: The majority of the Drama slate comes from the BBC’s incredibly rich archive, however, around a quarter are acquired, and these are extremely important titles for us. We seek to have the best content, not just the best BBC content, which means acquiring classic archives as well as finding new titles that can go well with the excellent quality BBC shows we have.

TV drama: What have been the most successful acquired dramas for the channel lately?
AYECH: The Mysteries of Brokenwood was one of our most successful acquisitions, and it was the channel’s highest-rated show last year, averaging season seven over one million viewers. It is loved by our viewers and sits well alongside the rest of our top lineup. We also acquired all seasons of bad girls last year, which was a big hit on both linear and UKTV Play, and sparked a lot of conversation and excitement on our social media.
A place to call home was also a highlight, especially on UKTV Play.

TV drama: What’s currently on your wishlist for dramatic acquisitions?
AYECH: UK premiere soft crime and UK premiere period drama, with high production value and fine UK talent. Also searches for iconic archive content and volume archives.

We buy a lot of archives from a few key vendors; however, we continue to engage with a range of distributors to ensure our cutting edge content stays fresh.

TV drama: Something you don’t see enough on the market and would like to see more of?
AYECH: We know our viewers love soft crime, and we’re always on the lookout for more. We have a number of Drama-exclusive series in the Freeview space (Frankie Drake Mysteries, Harrow, Miss Scarlet and the Duke), but we will always consider more.

TV drama: Will originals and/or co-productions be more of a priority for the channel in the future?
AYECH: We are ambitious about what Drama can achieve and we are exploring all avenues for continued growth. This will likely mean giving our viewers more new and exclusive content and growing our reputation as more than an archive channel. I think that to achieve this objective at the level that we want, it will mean being active in the field of originals and/or co-productions.

Tanya J. Hill