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Drama becomes TV's big battleground

13 January 2012

There’s been a flurry of big drama announcements this week, with BBC1, ITV and C4 unveiling their latest commissions for 2012. The commissions all point to drama becoming the big battleground for broadcasters this year.

The BBC’s drama boss Ben Stephenson unveiled five new drama commissions, including the historical adaptation War of the Roses and Room on the Broom, a follow up to The Gruffalo.

ITV followed suit a day later with two big drama announcements, Tony Marchant’s Leaving as well as Great Train Robbery drama Mrs Biggs. And Channel 4 announced Guy Hibbert’s latest, Complicit, about the War on Terror.

These are on top of upcoming 2012 dramas such as Birdsong, Call the Midwife and Restless on BBC1; Tom Stoppard adaptation Parade’s End, Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge and a Shakespeare season on BBC2; the £11m Titanic as well as new runs of Scott & Bailey, Downton Abbey and Vera on ITV; The Mill, C4’s first period drama in many years; and Sky’s big budget Sinbad.

Buoyed by the ratings and critical success of shows such as Downton Abbey, Sherlock and Top Boy, the major broadcasters are all choosing to invest in drama as they seek to standout with a genre that allows them to offer something truly distinctive. By comparison, entertainment ratings juggernauts such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are still for the most part delivering the goods – but they are looking very familiar as they roll around year after year.

And it seems that most broadcasters can afford to spend on drama, despite it being the most expensive genre to produce. In a sign of the relative health of key commercial broadcasters, C4 revealed this week that its revenues had crossed the £1bn mark for the first time ever last year.

The BBC, of course, is cutting back its overall production spend following DQF, but it has chosen to protect its drama investment on BBC1 and BBC2 from the worst of the cuts.

Last summer, ITV said it was boosting its drama output by 40 hours a year, or nearly £30m. And Sky has also become a key player - and investor - in the genre.

It’s very hard to avoid the cliché, but it really does promise to be a dramatic year for television in 2012.

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