World watches American TV, not always legally

World watches American TV, not always legally

23rd September 2013, Comments 3 comments

The massive success of US shows abroad also highlights a clear problem -- a huge proportion of viewers are watching their products illegally.

Fun TV fact: "Desperate Housewives" is a cult hit in North Korea. Slightly less surprisingly, shows like "Breaking Bad" and "House" are watched everywhere, from Latin America to China to France.

"It's definitely a big problem," said Tim Westcott, senior TV analyst at international media consultancy IHS Screen Digest.

"People outside the US can download pirate copies of a new US show only minutes after it's aired in the US via various file sharing sites," the London-based expert told AFP.

Beth Braen of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) added: "Piracy is as big an issue for the TV industry as it is for their film counterparts."

Worldwide popularity

Of course, American TV series have long been popular around the world -- "Baywatch," "Starsky and Hutch" and "Dallas" were staples of television decades before the latest crop of hit shows.

"House of Cards," "Breaking Bad" and "Game of Thrones" are among those vying for glory -- and increased riches boosted by awards success -- at the Emmys on Sunday.

But they are popular way beyond America's shores. And the growth potential is enormous: global pay TV revenue last year jumped by nearly 30 percent to over $184 billion, according to a recent study cited by the Hollywood Reporter.

For example, in France -- long proud of its "exception culturelle" that protects its own film, television and music producers -- American TV shows now dominate TV schedules.

The most popular include "House" -- "Dr House" in French -- and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" ("Les Experts"). The biggest hit, "The Mentalist," regularly gets over seven million viewers per episode on France's biggest private channel TF1.

In China, US television shows are hugely popular, even if there is little opportunity for viewers to watch them on the giant nation's state-controlled television stations.

HBO dramas are particularly a hit with Chinese viewers, and are available mainly through illicit online streaming, usually the day after they have been aired in the United States, with subtitled versions following soon after.

In Japan, US TV shows are popular, with even long-running hits such as "Columbo" still garnering viewers.

Public broadcaster NHK's expansion into satellite television saw it offer a greater variety of series, with recent examples including "Glee" and "Desperate Housewives." Fantasy drama "Once Upon A Time" began its run this month.

Market growth potential

The potential markets overseas are huge. "TV is unquestionably more international than ever before," Tim Gray, awards editor of industry journal Variety, told AFP.

"As channels proliferate around the globe via cable and satellite, everybody needs more content."

IHS Screen Digest analyst Westcott added: "New markets are opening up all the time (Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe) and new players in the market are always looking for high quality content, ideally in high volume."

But experts compare the state of TV and film piracy to the music industry before the advent of iTunes. Like record producers, TV folk need to find a way to persuade viewers to watch legally.

"Everyone's looking for a new model that will give consumers an option that's affordable and attractive," said Gray.

Netflix, a video streaming service with a huge following in America, is touted by some as possibly pointing the way ahead overseas too.

Its "House of Cards" is the first online-only series nominated for a major prize at the Emmys.

The California-based company, founded in 1997, now has over 37 million members in 40 countries including Canada since 2010, Latin America since 2011, and Britain, Ireland and the Nordic countries since last year.

But its services, and others like Hulu, are likely a drop in the ocean compared to the tidal wave of content being streamed illegally worldwide.

The amount of money TV producers are losing out on due to illicit viewing is difficult to calculate.

"It's hard to monetize these things in the film world -- but even harder in TV," Gray said.

"Everyone agrees it's a crisis, but nobody quite knows what to do about it... Netflix, Hulu and others are trying for options, but there are no easy answers."

Michael Thurston / AFP / Expatica

3 Comments To This Article

  • alina posted:

    on 23rd September 2013, 23:24:42 - Reply

    May be, just may be some countries' governments want to send out a 'signal' and disseminate all american's successful programmes for free, you know, purposely. As ozzie said, some nations and their people have had it with the american's global greed which clearly has undermined beyond repair, a fairly a long list of countries' economies to date. Think of tax free operations of Starbucks, think of google ads income sold globally but taxed absolutely nowhere on those high tax territories. How many ad agencies have gone bust because of google? How many coffee stores struggle to beat the Starbucks prizes - simply because they lack the 'edge' of selling coffee totally free of domestic income tax like Starbucks does? UK has tackled these issues. NL at the other hand, does nothing but go round with its hat to collect 59% (!!!!!) on a lower middle income wage. So may be, just may be, some people have had it with the americans' way of doing business? who can blame them for handing out american movies 'for free' - seriously.
  • minne posted:

    on 23rd September 2013, 16:22:27 - Reply

    The cable here is the world's worst! And all the reruns of late 70s sitcoms are the pitts, now that netflix has his the Dutch market it's a coincidence all the movies on the local networks all week are the same movies free netflix is offering.
  • ozzie posted:

    on 23rd September 2013, 14:44:39 - Reply

    The best way to legalize these viewings is in the hands of the local tv channels. Traditionally these channels do not have the budget to pay for such renowned american tv series but if they got a little less greedy they would increase their audience by making an investment on these new series. Peolple like to watch quality movies and series, regardless wether it is legal or not. The local tv channels are the ones to blame for the irregularities people have to incur in order to entertain themselves.