An Idiot Abroad: the most important Sky 1 show for years?

1 Dec

Sky have had it tough in recent times, with top brass accusations that their investment in content is not up to standard and losing a whole host of their biggest shows (including Lost, 24 and Prison Break) – but there’s been a bright spark on Sky 1 that may turn out to be the most important show in the channels recent history.

But before, let’s consider some of the considerations that Sky has made before commissioning a piece like this:

  • They want a show that will encourage people to switch to the Sky 1 HD channel.
  • They want an original show that will demonstrate their commitment to brand new UK content.
  • They want a show that will drive subscriptions and make Sky 1 the premium brand they thrive for it to be.

So with the aforementioned American shows coming to an end, especially Lost – a premium show that looks brilliant in HD – the end commission from all of this is… An Idiot Abroad (watch the preview of it here)

Its quite a risk for Sky – taking the producer of a Saturday afternoon radio show on London station XFM and a collection of high-selling podcasts and jetting him around the world. But the producer, Karl Pilkington, is an audio guy and is relatively unproven on television. He had an hour-long Channel 4 documentary a couple of years ago, a few 5 minute shorts and has featured on DVD extras of Ricky Gervais – but in terms of starring in a big budget prime-time series, it’s a definite risk to take him on.

The format too is hardly Sky 1 territory, and some could argue that it’d be better suited on Discovery or National Geographic.

Personally I found the show a lot more informative about the honest image of these exotic countries (although I am similarly dismissive when it comes to foreign cultures) than any other recent documentaries, and found it a lot more relatable and charming than travel shows and travel-logs. I watched it as a documentary with a witty, surprisingly charamatic host and not a comedy that many people may have seen it as (at least initially).

In fact, I’d place An Idiot Abroad in the same genre as the Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends and even the Michael Palin documentaries (that Pilkington references numerous times). In fact, I’d suggest the legacy of An Idiot Abroad may be similar to that of Louis Theroux’s documentary style (which was wholly unique when it was first released in the mid-nineties, but has definitely influenced many documentary series to take a more humourous tone and light-hearted substance to often difficult subjects).

And it’s not just my thoughts that have been positive about the show, as seen here, here and here.

But one think rarely discussed about An Idiot Abroad is how massively well it’s done ratings-wise, and what effect the show’s success could have on future factual shows (as previous mentioned).

So I think it’s well worth look at the ratings of the show…

All figures are fully consolidated figures from BARB. Full information at the bottom of this article.

The spectacle of Karl Pilkington, born in Manchester and barely resided outside of the Canary Islands on holiday, barely surviving his trip in the Amazon rainforest in Peru was the series highlight and that’s reflected in the ratings – over 1.7 million pay-TV people tuning in to see it! (and that’s not counting the numerous who will tune in on Sky Player or have inevitably illegally downloaded it)

In total, 7.6 million people have watched An Idiot Abroad since its launch in September.

But to put the ratings of the top rated episode (Peru or Jordan, which both hovered around 1.7 million) in perspective, let’s look at what other significant shows have rated this year:

Shows & TV events that An Idiot Abroad has rated better than in 2010 (pay-TV adults)

  • The 2010 Election Sky News Debate (1.46m adults)
  • England vs. Germany on BBC HD (1.41m)
  • Glee (best performing episode, 1.29m)
  • Xtra Factor (best performing episode, 1.24m)
  • Lost Season 6 (best performing episode, 1.20m)
  • Katie Price / Jordan’s ITV2 show ‘What Katie Did Next’ (best performing episode, 1.11m)
  • 24 final season (best performing episode, 1.03m)
  • The Pacific (best performing episode, 978,000)
  • The Ryder Cup (best performing day, 926,000)

Not bad for a bald fella talking about how bad the food is abroad?

In fact, and this is crucial to contemplating the success of An Idiot Abroad, it is the biggest rating show on television this year (in pay-TV homes… minus terrestrial programming, football and The Inbetweeners).

That may seem a bit of a cop-out, saying ‘best show this year minus some stuff!’ but let’s remember than football always rates really highly on Sky Sports 1 and costs millions upon millions of pounds to buy the rights for. The Inbetweeners is in its third season and has become a bit of an institution in terms of modern British comedy – but it’s taken a few years to reach such big figures (in its first series, The Inbetweeners was a bit of a niche show with small ratings).

So for a show presented by a virtual unknown (outside of the internet, radio and podcast world) to surpass some huge budget content with high-paid stars is a massive, massive success for Sky 1 – a channel that has been struggling to find new content since the demise of Lost, 24 etc. It tried its hand at an X-Factor clone (see: Must Be The Music, with Jamie Cullum and Dizzie Rascal as judges – the best episode attracted less than 500k viewers and I’m willing to bet ‘each’ judge cost more per episode than Karl Pilkington) and it’s Terry Pratchett shows are big budget spectacles that will always appeal to a rather niche audience but tend to go out during festive periods so get inflated figures thanks to the general increase in viewing.

An Idiot Abroad may be the first commissioned show that Sky 1 have had that appeals to a mainstream audience, creates a real buzz and may shift the common view that the channel is ‘home to The Simpsons and that’s about it’.

One more example of how significant An Idiot Abroad will be in terms of the lore of Sky 1 – two episodes of the show feature in the top 10 rated shows EVER on Sky 1 (well, since 2002 – when data goes back til).

Here is the list (and the rest of the episodes appear in the top 50 – to put in comparison, there’s been 97,681 shows shown from 2002 to 17th October 2010 on Sky 1).

Top 10 Rated Show On Sky 1: Individuals – 2002 to 18th Nov 2010

  1. Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather – 17th December 2006 – 2.64m
  2. The Simpsons – 24rd April 2006 – 2.40m
  3. The Michael Jackson Interview – 24th February 2003 – 2.06m
  4. Tha Match – 9th October 2005 – 1.97m
  5. The Colour Of Magic – 23rd March 2008 – 1.96m
  6. David Blaine: Live In The UK – 19th October 2003 – 1.90m
  7. The Match – 10th October 2004 – 1.87m
  8. Rebecca Loos: My Story – 15th April 2004 – 1.78m
  9. An Idiot Abroad – 4th November 2010 – 1.74m
  10. An Idiot Abroad – 7th October 2010 – 1.68m

You can probably notice from that list that these two episodes of An Idiot Abroad are easily the biggest rated shows on Sky 1 all year, with the next highest rated show (after four more episodes of An Idiot Abroad) the season opener of Lost in February that was watched by 1.28m people.

In fact, if you return your eyes to the ”Top 10 Rated Sky 1 Shows you’ll notice that An Idiot Abroad is one of two series programmes in the list – the rest are one-offs, and the only other series programme is a special The Simpsons episodes written (ironically) by Ricky Gervais.

So a crucial question about the success of the show arises: is the show as successful as it is because of the ‘Ricky Gervais Effect’?

Clearly the appearance of another Ricky Gervais associated show in the Sky 1 Top 10 shows that has a huge audience pull (or maybe he just knows many BARB box people!), but I seriously question whether his association was the deciding factor for the shows success.

Why? Because the most successful episodes were later into the season. The first two episodes, in fact, were the lowest performing – which I think is the true nature of the Ricky Gervais effect (and the marketing campaign) – but that extra 500,000 is surely the effect of word-of-mouth thanks to the unique quality of the show.

And luckily, the show attracts an audience that is definitely a lot more susceptible to spread the word about shows they like…

An Idiot Abroad Audience Profile (source: BARB)

16-34 Adults

An Idiot Abroad Profile (or % of audience that are this demographic): 48%

Sky 1 Profile Average: 38%

ABC1 Adults

An Idiot Abroad Profile: 59%

Sky 1 Profile Average: 52%

Men

An Idiot Abroad Profile: 51%

Sky 1 Profile Average: 52%

Main Shopper w/ Children

An Idiot Abroad Profile: 20%

Sky 1 Profile Average: 20%

So as you can see, An Idiot Abroad’s audience is upmarket (with nearly 60% of them in the ABC1 demographic), young (with nearly half of the audience under 34) and is watched equally between males and females – suggesting plenty of co-watching with partners.

But the younger and more upmarket audience are the ones much more likely to share their thoughts of a profile online (by simply being more likely to have Smartphones, laptops, Facebook profiles etc). This has certainly helped the shows popularity – he may be a bald round-headed idiot but he certainly attracts an attractive audience to his show!

Which leaves one final question: will there be a second series of An Idiot Abroad?

I think the answer is a simple one for this – yes, without a doubt.

Karl Pilkington has cemented himself as a TV personality now, just as much as he is a radio or podcast personality. This could easily have been a risk by Sky that fell flat, even with the Ricky Gervais effect, but the addictive dry personality of Pilkington is completely unique and he’s now cemented his place on the small screen.

All stats and graphs from this article are figures from BARB, using the audience ‘Pay TV Adults’ within the UK Terrestrial Universe of viewers. The average Sky 1 audience is the average across the last two weeks from when this article was first posted.

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