Fans of the surprise hit TV show Downton Abbey are well aware that Lord Grantham and his family spent the earlier part of a season struggling with the idea that they would lose their fortune without a suitable male heir. In other words, the show is all about money. For the companies behind its production and distribution, the main issue is no different.
ITV plc, the UK’s largest commercial television broadcaster, was first to air Downton Abbey in 2010. It broadcast a second season in 2011. At least in part due to the success of that show, ITV posted a better-than-expected annual financial report for 2011. Total revenue grew that year by 4 percent to $3.4 billion, while annual profits grew 24 percent to $634 million.
Though ITV does not produce Downton Abbey, it does benefit from advertising generated during the prime-time hit, a key part of the company’s overall sales and profits. The period costume drama drew in a whopping 11.59 million UK viewers on Christmas day last year. To give some perspective, the country’s total population is about 60 million.
Meanwhile, the show has repeated its ratings success in the US on PBS, giving the public broadcasting network its largest audience in nearly three years. The season 2 finale of Downton Abbey aired just a couple of weeks ago (on February 18) and drew in 5.4 million US viewers, attracting more viewers than the season averages for NBC’s Parks & Recreation, Rock Center with Brian Williams, and Chuck. (It was PBS’ most-watched program since the Ken Burns’ documentary National Parks premiered in 2009.)
A London-based company called Carnival Film and Television is the production firm behind Downton Abbey, which is now seen in some 200 territories. Interesting to note, Carnival is ultimately a subsidiary of NBCUniversal. (NBCU bought Carnival in 2008 for an estimated $55.5 million in order to increase non-US revenues.) This means that the company that receives profits from international sales — including broadcast rights, Netflix and DVD sales, and merchandising — is a media conglomerate based right here in the US.
What would Dame Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham say to Yankee ownership? Her quip would be far better than one I could ever hope to compose.