UKTV’s Emma Ayech

Part of the UKTV bouquet of channels, Drama has been squarely positioned to deliver Britain the best-quality drama—from period to contemporary, family to comedy. From July 16, Drama will become U&Drama to sit within the new master brand U, uniting UKTV’s free-to-air channels. Emma Ayech, channel director for Drama and Alibi, talks about the strategy for acquisitions, commissions and co-productions.

TV DRAMA: What’s been guiding the programming strategy for UKTV’s Drama?
AYECH: We are ambitious for the channel and would like to make it a real destination for new content on both our linear and VOD services. That has meant expanding our editorial remit, experimenting with some grittier titles, U.S. and other international content and even dipping a toe into foreign-language drama. However, the main pillar of the strategy is to really ramp up the number of premiere hours we are offering while always ensuring any new content fits well with the current lineup both tonally and in terms of quality. Titles like The Marlow Murder Club and Sister Boniface Mysteries have the potential to become long-running fan favorites that give viewers reasons to always check what’s new on the channel and can sit comfortably alongside our carefully curated, quality archive.

TV DRAMA: In terms of acquisitions, about how much of the grid is acquired content, and what are the sources you look to?
AYECH: Drama has always been mostly acquired content, and that is still the case. The sources of that content have widened though—going from largely U.K. terrestrial archive to expand to more brand-new U.K. and international dramas, as well as U.K. second-run that can still feel fresh to our audience. We are also more focused on our streaming offering than ever before, which has a much wider and deeper library of drama than gets surfaced on our linear service, with an increasingly rich U.S. archive offering.

TV DRAMA: What do you have on your current acquisition wish list?
AYECH: We are always looking for soft crime with real personality. Signora VolpeMrs Sidhu Investigates and Darby and Joan are good examples of recent titles that all bring something fresh to the soft-crime genre and that have resonated with Drama’s audience. We are also keen to bring more variety into peak—fresh period and historical pieces, alongside some darker narrative crime that will also play well on U. An ongoing acquisition need for us is more high-volume archive that can play and repeat well in peak.

TV DRAMA: In terms of commissioning, what are the types of projects you want to be involved in as originals for Drama?
AYECH: We want our commissions to fit in perfectly with the channel we have built, so primarily a mix of softer crime and “treaty” period dramas are what we are looking at for our originals strategy. Known IP and much-loved, familiar talent are also ideal to cut through the enormous competition in drama right now.

TV DRAMA: Are you also exploring opportunities from a co-production standpoint?
AYECH: Absolutely. It’s hard to be the sole commissioner of drama because of the high costs involved, so we are always on the lookout for partners with a similar editorial remit to us to co-produce with.

TV DRAMA: What have you learned about the Drama viewer and what they’re looking for these days?
AYECH: I am constantly learning about the Drama viewer, and tastes never seem to stand still. We know our viewers are still fond of a regular linear appointment to view, but are also consuming more and more nonlinear content. This embracing of VOD feels like it has opened tastes up rapidly, with so much varied content now so accessible. A few years ago, we would have felt foreign subtitled content was a risk or content that felt too gritty or too young. However, when I speak to Drama viewers now, they have watched Lupin and Squid Game on Netflix and The Gathering on Channel 4, which on the surface might feel like it’s made for a younger audience. The main thing is we try not to pigeonhole an audience just because they are older. While Drama is first and foremost a familiar and comforting channel, our viewers are interested in all drama as long as it’s good—we don’t want them to get bored with us!

TV DRAMA: How is your programming, buying and commissioning strategy shifting in the face of the current (tightened and challenging) drama landscape?
AYECH: In a way, it feels as though the rest of the world is now playing within the constraints we always have. Drama has never been a big-budget channel, so we have always boxed clever to get the most out of our money. We are smart with archive and generally look to prebuy and co-produce on our bigger pieces or to find acquisitions that have been overlooked by others. There’s more competition for that content now, but we have a good mixed economy on the channel that still works in a constrained budget landscape.