U.S. television influences shows abroad

03Oct11

I found this article, entitled “European Television Adopts English and Looks Abroad,” interesting in the context of reading Chapter 7, “The New International Division of Cultural Labor.” Over the years, the U.S. television industry has adapted certain European shows for American audiences, such as “The Office” that originated in the U.K. This is also true in the game and reality show market, where the concept originated overseas and has been remade with American hosts and contestants. However, “drama series made by producers from Continental Europe, where English is a second language, have only rarely attracted any interest from American broadcasters.”  Producers overseas are trying to overcome this trend by shooting in English as well as taking on bigger budget projects.

The article talks about how “cross-border co-productions” has frequented the film industry. But in the television realm production tends to stay within a country’s borders, “sticking to domestic markets and their local languages.” However, European markets have grown increasingly fond of big-budget American dramas (Mad Men, anyone?). With the rapid increase in digital television, there has been more competition among domestic television shows in Continental Europe.

The foreign production companies are trying to find a way to push themselves into this market. Typically, European dramas have much smaller budgets (about $800,000 per episode versus upwards of $3 million in the U.S.). There are several considerations these foreign production companies are facing. Since shows may be geared to a more global market, advertising has been distributed more thinly as a result, which leads to the programming budgets under more scrutiny. If European producers are able to make the shift into producing high-budget dramas, they will also have access to “higher-quality talent and production skills.”  The head of TV France International who promotes French television exports says, “To finance high-quality programs, [broadcasters] need an international market, and for something to travel to the U.S., it has to be shot in English.” However, shooting a series in English has some drawbacks, such as forgoing government subsidies meant to “bolster French-language cultural output” (but is that really a big surprise? The French are very French like that).

The television audience doesn’t seem to mind, they tend to prefer high-quality American dramas even when shows are dubbed or accompanied by subtitles. If anything, foreign audiences would like the same quality television dramas produced in their own countries.

Finally, does this go the other way? Personally, I enjoy watching foreign films and television shows. Yet, when it comes to TV, most of what I watch comes from the U.K., and thus it is already in English (for instance, Downton Abbey, the new episode I will watch after finishing this post). Do you think that once more countries in Continental Europe start to produce their own big-budget television dramas and distributing them across the Atlantic, more Americans will start to watch these shows? Will American dramas lose their allure on European channels if there is more domestic television offerings? Additionally, what will be the impact on the production labor force if more countries decide they will start to produce television shows on par with American big-budget dramas? I wonder how this “cross-border co-production” atmosphere will translate from the film industry to television production in these countries.

-Sarah Dresser

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