BBC America’s Health After Losing ‘Doctor Who’? Here’s a Check-Up

BBC America paid its final respects to “Killing Eve” in April; now, “Doctor Who” is (time-) traveling away to Disney+. Guess what BBC America’s top two shows were?

The extremely long-running British series will now stream on Disney+ outside of the UK and Ireland. While we’re about a year out from that deal’s debut, the “intention” is for “Doctor Who” on Disney+ to stream the same day episodes air on Britain’s BBC One, a person with knowledge of the plans told IndieWire. BBC America, a joint venture between AMC Networks and BBC Studios, never had that deal, with “Doctor Who” episodes arriving much later in the U.S. For the next few years, BBC America will continue to have the linear license for several prior seasons of “Doctor Who,” including all of the Jodie Whittaker seasons, and a dozen specials.

Disney’s “Doctor Who” deal follows a somewhat similar platform change for “Dancing With the Stars,” which is produced in Los Angeles and distributed internationally by BBC Studios. Now a Disney+ original series, “DWTS,” based on the BBC One original series “Strictly Come Dancing” in the UK, enjoyed a whole lot of foxtrots on Disney’s broadcast network ABC — and then Disney realized it needed more adults, specifically adult women, to watch Disney+.

To soothe some fears for BBC America, losing “Doctor Who” here is nothing like it would be to lose it in the British market. Even within the BBC America portfolio itself, interest in “Doctor Who” had been dwindling for years. Whittaker’s third season as the Doctor was down sharply in ratings from her first; and this past Sunday’s special was down from that. And with Disney dollars winning out here, this is in some ways a win for exactly half of BBC America’s owners. The BBC Studios half.

But BBC America can’t absorb many more casualties on the “Killing Eve” and “Doctor Who” level. It’s currently the least-watched of the AMC Networks cable channels, which also include AMC Network, IFC, SundanceTV, and WE tv. (In addition to its cable bundle, AMC Networks is also the home to streaming services AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, and ALLBLK, as well as studios AMC Studios and IFC Films.)

Of the 122 cable channels measured by Nielsen last quarter, BBC America tied for 50th in total primetime viewers with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network. It was below CNBC and above MotorTrend. Q3 2022 is the first quarter since “Killing Eve” ended; there have been no regular “Doctor Who” episodes this year, but a few specials ran during the quarter.

BBC America is struggling, and now it’s going to struggle more. But it is not without content, nor is the channel going anywhere, BBC America general manager Blake Callaway told IndieWire for this story.

“We have an exciting lineup of new and returning shows that will excite and inspire BBC America viewers,” Callaway said in a statement emailed to IndieWire. “November brings the premiere of daring new drama ‘Mood,’ a new natural history series ‘Life in Color,’ narrated by David Attenborough, the return of ‘Top Gear’ for its 33rd season and, as always, Friday nights with Graham Norton and his unique lens on celebrity culture with the best guests on TV talk. All of which leads to a fantastic start to 2023 with the premiere of the latest natural history landmark from the BBC, ‘Frozen Planet II.’”

If anyone has been here before, it is AMC Networks executives. AMC proper lost “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” within two years of each other. Fortunately, “The Walking Dead” was there to pick up lots of the viewership slack; “Better Call Saul” would follow. Unfortunately, those are two more key series leaving AMC in 2022 — “Saul” is already over; “The Walking Dead” series finale is next month. AMC Network is banking on a bunch of Anne Rice shows and “Walking Dead” spinoffs as a stopgap.

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