For decades, American fans of British accents had it rough. Beginning in the 1970s, the primary access they had to television created in the United Kingdom was through PBS, which imported classic series like Fawlty Towers and Doctor Who to fill out the hours of programming not devoted to Sesame Street and pledge drives.
Said airings were often months behind the U.K., and even as DVRs and digital streaming came on the scene, U.K. TV still struggled to find its way to America legally. The irony, of course, is that British television has consistently been heralded as some of the best in the world (well, maybe Doctor Who isn’t for everyone, but we can all agree about the original British Office).
Now, however, things have changed. streaming services based in the US have embraced television from across the pond, and as a result, British television has never been bigger in the US.
Charlotte Koh, head of content development for Hulu Originals, acknowledged this in an email interview, pointing out that the service has acquired a wide range of programming from around the world over the past few years (including Korean dramas, Japanese anime and the original foreign versions of American series like Homeland and The Bridge). But, she said, “In particular, British television has become the cornerstone of our international programming.”
These shows range from popular favorites like Who and Sherlock (which are also available on Netflix and Amazon Prime) to exclusive runs on award-winning dramas and comedies like Misfits, Moone Boy and Rev.
“Our audience tends to be a more discerning group of viewers who seek out and appreciate the distinctive and unique qualities of British television,” Koh said.
It helps that Hulu hasn’t been shy about putting some promotional muscle behind its programming: When The Wrong Mans premiered last November, it not only garnered strong reviews but received no shortage of print advertising, including billboards all over Los Angeles.
“By supporting our originals with well-targeted advertising and publicity, we’ve seen a meaningful uptick in awareness not only for The Wrong Mans, but for Hulu Originals overall,” Koh said.
Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Instant Video’s stable of exclusive international content isn’t as large as Hulu’s, but they’ve been at it for a much shorter period of time: While Hulu was making these deals as far back as 2011, Amazon made Downton Abbey its first exclusive streaming acquisition only a year ago.
But according to Amazon’s director of digital video content acquisition, Brad Beale, making that call was a no-brainer for them: “The series was consistently in our top most watched TV shows each week so we already knew customers loved this show,” he said. “It was an easy decision to add it to Prime.”
It’s even popular for those who don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime, but do pay for individual episodes or season passes. “Our customers can’t seem to get enough of the show,” Beale said.