RE: U.S. TV Shows Losing Potency Around World

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed 15 Jan 2003 - 13:53:16 GMT

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    Hi everyone,

    Just tracking through a huge backlog of messages. Life, and all things inbetween seem to have got in the way of being bothered to navigate my way round all the stuff that was more political debate that socio-cultural analysis from a memetics perspective.

    Anyway, this piece caught my eye, as ever Wade seems to catch many interesting articles for the list. Major information flows, like TV exports/imports, it seems to me are important macro aspects for memetics to examine.

    Do I detect a hint of surprise and concern that audiences around the world would prefer to watch homegrown TV than US TV from this piece? In the UK, US programmes continue to occupy a major place in cultural terms, but channels like the BBC and ITV generally do not now put US shows in prime time slots The BBC have tended to ghetto some of the biggest US shows (e.g. erratic and post 11:30pm showing of Seinfeld, a work of comic genius). Channels with smaller audience share like Channels 4 and 5 rely more on US shows for maintaining their share. Channel 4 shows Friends at 9pm on a Friday, Fraiser at 10pm on a Monday, and shows like The Sopranos, NYPD Blue, and Six Feet Under post 10-30/11pm weeknights, I think ER and The West Wing have got 9pm slots, with screenings of all these several weeks in advance on its digital subscription channel E4 in an attempt to get more subcribers. Channel 5, only around since the late 1990s, has gradually built audience share through showing US shows in prime-time, e.g. CSI at 9pm on a Saturday night, after Dark Angel, and Charmed. Otherwise, Murdoch's Sky One has outbid domestic channels for first run rights to shows like Enterprise, Buffy etc. That's not to forget things like Smallville, Dawson's Creek, and numerous other US shows that are screened around the clock (daytime TV is currently dominated by re-runs of things like Starsky & Hutch, Cagney & Lacey, Magnum, Columbo, TJ Hooker- remember that? and so on).

    What makes this significant is that Britain, although some way behind the US, is the second largest net exporter of TV programmes globally, and it is not only US but what is seen as anglo-saxon domination of television programming (and film to an extent, especially when Aussie films are included) has been problematic for many nations, particularly the French. British TV producton is in a relatively healthy state, and yet output is still dominated by US programmes, and the situation is the same, if not worse in many other parts of the world. Of course this is one of the reasons why people around the world feel so able to comment on the US as if they know all about it, as there is widespread familiarity with US culture and US products as well let's not forget. None of that equates with the reality of the US, of course, but I reckon the relative knowledge of US citizens of other countries' cultural output is significantly less extensive. Cultural imperialism, as much of this dominance of global TV trade has been dubbed (Jeremy Tunstall once used the phrase 'The Media are American', in the same way that Vodka is Russian), is detrimental not only to those cultures subsumed by external dominance, but also limits the natives of that culturally dominante nation.


    > ----------
    > From: Wade T. Smith
    > Reply To:
    > Sent: Thursday, January 2, 2003 3:42 PM
    > To:
    > Subject: Fwd: U.S. TV Shows Losing Potency Around World
    > U.S. TV Shows Losing Potency Around World
    > LONDON Want to catch the latest episode of the CBS hit
    > "C.S.I." in France? Tune in Saturdays at 11 p.m. How about the
    > CBS show "Judging Amy" in Singapore? Try weekdays at midnight.
    > Those programs would have been candidates for prime time several
    > years ago. But today American dramas and sitcoms -- though some
    > remain popular -- increasingly occupy fringe time slots on
    > foreign networks, industry executives say. Instead, a growing
    > number of shows produced by local broadcasters are on the air at
    > the best times.
    > "Whereas American TV shows used to occupy prime-time slots, they
    > are now more typically on cable, or airing in late-night or
    > weekend slots," said Michael Grindon, president of Sony Pictures
    > Television International.
    > The shift counters a longstanding assumption that TV shows
    > produced in the United States would continue to overshadow
    > locally produced shows from Singapore to Sicily. The changes are
    > coming at a time when the influence of the United States on
    > international affairs has chafed friends and foes alike, and
    > some people are expressing relief that at least on television
    > American culture is no longer quite the force it once was.
    > "There has always been a concern that the image of the world
    > would be shaped too much by American culture," said Dr. Jo
    > Groebel, director general of the European Institute for the
    > Media, a nonprofit group.
    > The American studios priced themselves out of the market just as
    > competition began to heat up abroad from newly privatized
    > commercial broadcasters and upstart cable and satellite
    > networks, industry executives say. Given the choice, they add,
    > foreign viewers often prefer homegrown shows that better reflect
    > local tastes, cultures and historical events. A recent example
    > is "The Tunnel," a miniseries about escapees from East to West
    > Germany, which was the eighth most popular show in Germany last
    > year.
    > Unlike in the United States, commercial broadcasting in most
    > regions of the world including Asia, Europe and to a lesser
    > extent Latin America, which has a long history of commercial TV
    > is a relatively recent development.
    > A majority of broadcasters in many countries were either
    > state-owned or state-subsidized for much of the last century.
    > Governments began to relax their control in the 1980's by
    > privatizing national broadcasters and granting licenses to
    > dozens of new commercial networks. The rise of cable and
    > satellite pay television increased the spectrum of channels.
    > Relatively inexperienced and often financed on a shoestring,
    > these new commercial stations needed hours of programming
    > fast. The cheapest and easiest way to fill air time was to buy
    > shows from American studios, and the bidding wars for popular
    > shows like "Dallas" or "Twin Peaks" were fierce.
    > The big American studios took advantage of that demand by
    > raising prices and forcing foreign broadcasters to buy
    > less-popular programs if they wanted access to the best-selling
    > shows and movies.
    > "The studios priced themselves out of prime time," said Harry
    > Evans Sloan, chairman of SBS Broadcasting, a Pan-European
    > broadcaster. Mr. Sloan estimates that over the last decade, the
    > price of American programs has increased fivefold even as the
    > international ratings for these shows have declined. "You cannot
    > win a prime-time slot with an American show anymore," he said.
    > In general, shows are priced by ratings. A foreign station would
    > pay less for an American show that was shown at an off-peak time.
    > At the same time, politicians, concerned about the cultural
    > influence of the United States, set quotas on American content.
    > In one example, Dr. Groebel of the media institute said, French
    > officials became alarmed when an increasing number of
    > adolescents appearing in court addressed the judge as "your
    > honor," a term gleaned from American detective shows.
    > But television executives point out that some American shows,
    > like "The Shield" and "Sex and the City," still attract a large
    > number of foreign viewers. And some still generate huge bidding
    > wars. Channel 4 in England was recently reported to have agreed
    > to pay $1.5 million an episode for "The Simpsons." Over all,
    > they said, foreign demand for American shows has actually
    > increased as the number of channels, including cable and
    > satellite, has grown.
    > A worldwide economic boom has brought foreign broadcasters more
    > advertising revenue, which they have invested in local
    > programming. Initially, many shows emulated successful American
    > formats. In Germany, for instance, a long-running hit called
    > "Das Traumschiff," or the "Dream Ship," is a remake of the
    > American hit "Love Boat." But increasingly, homegrown programs
    > mined historical events that resonated with their audience or
    > added local twists to popular myths.
    > According to a survey by the European Audiovisual Observatory,
    > the highest ranking show in Italy last year was "Uno Bianca," a
    > dramatization based on a crime gang. No. 1 in France was "Julie
    > Lescaut," a long-running detective series.
    > First-run domestic fiction programs in the five largest European
    > Union countries Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and France
    > increased 5.7 percent in 2001 and have grown 43 percent since
    > 1996, the European Audiovisual Observatory recently reported.
    > That pattern has played out in many countries around the world.
    > A 2001 survey by Nielsen Media Research found that 71 percent of
    > the top 10 programs in 60 countries were locally produced in
    > 2001, representing a steady increase over previous years.
    > American movies on television still drew big ratings, grabbing 9
    > percent of the top 10 slots, but American dramatic or comedic
    > series typically rated much lower than local shows.
    > In South Korea, for instance, the top-rated show in the third
    > week of last September was "The Era of the Abandoned Hero," a
    > locally produced soap opera that attracted 22.7 percent of the
    > population. By contrast, the highest-rated nonlocal show,
    > "C.S.I.," drew just 2.7 percent of all Koreans tuning in that
    > week.
    > American shows, which are usually dubbed, fared even worse
    > elsewhere in Asia, where they took a back seat to programming
    > from Britain and China. In Malaysia, the highest-rated nonlocal
    > show for the same week in September was "Mr. Bean," a British
    > comedic series, and in Indonesia there was the Chinese movie
    > "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
    > One exception is Japan, which has historically shown little
    > American programming but is now giving prime-time slots to some
    > shows. TV Asahi, for instance, is running the former Fox Network
    > show "Dark Angel" on Mondays at 8 p.m. And in Latin America,
    > where there has always been a more vibrant commercial
    > broadcasting industry, networks have tended to devote more time
    > to local programming, mainly to soap operas called telenovelas.
    > Some foreign producers have even turned the tables on American
    > studios by pioneering new formats, like reality television, that
    > they exported to the United States. John de Mol, chief executive
    > of Endemol, a Dutch company that produced the original "Big
    > Brother" and now licenses the show to broadcasters around the
    > world, including CBS, said that American studios had initially
    > overlooked the reality format. "They were playing it safe," he
    > said.
    > The change has important implications for the future of
    > television financing, analysts who follow the industry said.
    > American broadcasters are still the biggest buyers of
    > American-made television shows, accounting for 90 percent of the
    > $25 billion in 2001 sales, according to Wilkofsky Gruen
    > Associates, a consulting firm. But international sales, which
    > totaled $2.5 billion last year, often make the difference
    > between a profit and a loss on a show, executives said.
    > As the pace of foreign sales slows the market is now growing
    > at 5 percent a year, down from the double-digit growth of the
    > 1990's studio executives are rethinking production costs.
    > Sony, for instance, has cut its production schedule by
    > two-thirds, Mr. Grindon said.
    > Some studios, like Sony, are countering the trend by opening
    > production centers abroad to better create shows tailored to
    > local tastes.
    > "Mein Leben und Ich," a German show produced by Sony that
    > translates as "Me and My Life," about the angst of a teenage
    > girl, is shown on Friday evenings at 9:15 and is first in its
    > time slot. "A Rich and Famous Governor," a Sony production about
    > a kindhearted but bumbling government official, has just been
    > approved for broadcast in Hong Kong and China.
    > And at least in Britain, American media companies may soon play
    > a larger role. Legislation that is expected to become law later
    > this year would relax restrictions on foreign ownership and pave
    > the way for American takeovers of British broadcasters.
    > Still, the changes are humbling for American studios used to
    > calling the shots abroad. "The worldwide television market is
    > growing," said David Hulbert, president of Walt Disney
    > Television International, "but America's place in it is
    > declining."
    > Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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