Programming trends around the globe

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AUSTRALIA

By Pip Bulbeck

SYDNEY -- There's new fuel to the traditional rivalry between the Seven and Nine networks, following Seven's comprehensive ratings win for the first time in several decades last year. In a bid to reinvigorate its schedule, Nine is planning to launch no less than 30-40 new programs, with CEO David Gyngell saying recently that 2008 will be a year of "restructure and development."

Nine's new roster of programs includes topline Australian dramas "Underbelly," "Sea Patrol" and "Canal Road"; several new game shows, including "Hole in the Wall" and "Power of 10"; and factual series like "RFDS" and "Animal Emergency."

They'll go up against Seven shows like "The Force" and "Border Security," the new drama "Packed to the Rafters" and, of course,

Seven's coverage of the Beijing Olympics. Despite a concerted effort from the No. 2 network, Seven is expected to widen its lead over Nine this year largely thanks to its games broadcasts.

Sporting events aside, Australian audiences are enjoying local fare over imported programs -- with factual programs, local versions of U.S. and U.K. entertainment formats, and Australian dramas the most popular genres.

But the early success story for 2007 is the youth-targeted Network Ten show "So You Think You Can Dance Australia," which is averaging more than 1.5 million viewers as the top-rated program on Sundays. Ten is hoping its aging franchises "Big Brother" and "Australian Idol" will pull similar audiences later in the year. Elsewhere, Nine is having considerable success with spiky U.K. chef Gordon Ramsay, whose "Kitchen Nightmares" series is proving a surprise hit for the network in its first free-to-air screenings here.

And while the traditionally ferocious ratings battle is in full swing, broadcasters here are

laying down their plans for digital and multichannel broadcasting. Seven and Ten launched high-def channels in December, with Nine HD set to air last month. Meanwhile, pay net Foxtel is readying a midyear eight-channel HD service launch, with BBC HD as the centerpiece.

However, network execs now say they are focused on plans to launch new standard-definition channels in January 2009, growing the free-to-air TV universe in Australia from five key channels to 15. To coincide with those '09 launches, the networks are negotiating to create a FreeView style service, while separately Seven is moving ahead with plans to launch TiVo here. Those moves come as audiences continue to drift to pay TV, which over the recent summer reached a record 2.2 million subscribers and hit ratings shares in excess of 60% in pay TV homes.  

CANADA

By Etan Vlessing

TORONTO -- The Canadian TV industry has come through a year of megatakeover deals to emerge with fewer, but bigger broadcast players.

Goldman Sachs became a player in the domestic TV business after it largely financed a $2.3 billion takeover of broadcaster Alliance Atlantis Communications by Canadian partner CanWest Global Communications. That purchase followed a $1.3 billion deal from CTVglobemedia for rival broadcaster Chum and its stable of free, over-the-air and cable TV channels, as well as radio stations.

And cable giant Rogers Communications got deeper into broadcasting after it acquired five Citytv-branded conventional TV stations from CTVglobemedia.

After they grew by mergers, the big question is whether CanWest, CTVglobemedia and Rogers will dig deeper and use MIPTV and this month's Los Angeles Screenings to grow their brands as they acquire more rookie and returning U.S. series.

Canadian broadcasters achieved primetime ratings gains of late with homegrown fare like CTV's "Corner Gas" and the "Canadian Idol" franchise. But popular U.S. series like "American Idol" and the "CSI" franchise continue to dominate in Canadian primetime.

Other Canadian players have also been active on the mergers-and-acquisitions front. Cable channel broadcaster Astral Media acquired Standard Radio, the country's largest radio broadcaster, for $1.1 billion, while Corus Entertainment bought cable channel Canadian Learning Television from CTVglobemedia for $73 million and launched Cosmopolitan Television Canada in partnership with Hearst Corp.

Concerned with undue industry consolidation, in January Canada's TV watchdog introduced new cross-media ownership rules to ensure a media player can control only two of the three types of media outlets -- radio, TV or newspapers -- in any major market.

And though they lag behind their American counterparts in migrating to the Internet, Canadian broadcasters have begun to exploit emerging digital platforms. Apple began to sell downloadable TV episodes from MTV, CTV, CBC and Comedy Network series, as well as a few National Hockey League games, on its iTunes platform.   



CHINA

By Jonathan Landreth

NEW YORK -- August 8, 2008, could shape how the world sees

Chinese television for a long time to come. That's when the Summer Olympics are set to begin, which are expected to draw 4 billion viewers. Looking past

Communist censorship and recent nightly news reports from official media outlets lambasting Nobel Peace Prize winner the Dalai Lama as a terrorist, the ad industry has already recognized China's TV gravitas.

The Beijing Olympics will lead worldwide net television advertising -- up 5.8% this year to $123 billion -- defying widespread fears of an overall economic downturn. The Olympics are also expected to help push 2008 past 2007's growth of 3.5%, according to a recent report by

Telecoms and Media.

Yet, while the global average for net television advertising per TV household is running at more than $100 -- and the U.S. will be highest at $380 in 2008 -- China will remain the lowest at $10.

Still, sports are leading the way into China, as seen in the NBA's revenue from broadcasting games featuring Houston Rockets center and Shanghai local hero Yao Ming. When Yao faced countryman Yi

Jianlian, a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks, in November, some billed it as "the Chinese Super Bowl." The two played again in early February, with both games drawing Chinese television audiences of 100 million-200 million.

Indeed, China is a major expansion market for the NBA. In January, a group of investors, including ESPN and Asia's richest man, Li Ka Shing, paid $253 million for an 11% stake in NBA China, which was created to handle all of the league's affairs there, including licensed retail. The new entity also hired Timothy Chen, a former CEO of Microsoft China, to head the company.

But now the injured Yao is out for the season, and a recent first attempt by Major League Baseball failed to get Dodgers-Padres exhibitions games aired on Chinese TV.

Another way onto China's small screens is through the tested gateway of Hong Kong, where William Pfeiffer, former CEO of Malaysian-owned film and television production company Celestial Pictures, has just launched a television production company targeting the Chinese-language market. Pfeiffer will establish the company with a modest investment from
Lionsgate in North America.

"Other than the Olympics, the big shifts in Chinese television this year will be the resurgence of the more traditional entertainment genre, including the variety show format and TV dramas, as regulations curtailing contest formats have taken hold," says Anke Redl, director of the Beijing-based media research consultancy China Media Monitor Intelligence. "At the same time, government policies focused on developing China's animation industry will continue to increase output as well as quality of animated stories finding their way into the market."

In February, Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob and other foreign cartoon favorites got their primetime walking papers in China when regulators at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television forbade all foreign cartoons from airing between 5-9 p.m., expanding an earlier ban imposed in August 2006, which kept foreign cartoons off the air from 5-8 p.m. Japan's "Pokemon" was also impacted by the decision.

Authorities said that the move is designed to protect China's own cartoon industry. The initiative also increases the total amount of domestically produced programming that channels aimed at children should air from 60% to 70%.   

FRANCE

By Rebecca Lefler

PARIS -- French TV is on its way to becoming completely digital, mobile and ad-free. It was a tumultuous year in the Gallic television sector as pay TV group Canal Plus battled for rights to broadcast national league soccer matches and new President Nicolas Sarkozy struggled to defend his controversial plan to make the nation's public TV and radio completely ad-free by 2009.

France's plan to completely digitize its national television by 2011 is already under way, with French broadcasting regulator the CSA passing a new law on March 5 prohibiting French TV manufacturers and retailers from selling TV equipment not capable of receiving digital terrestrial television channels. The DTT service has already been picked up by more than 85% of the population, and DTT HD technology will be available by mid-2008.

The country's main terrestrial channels, however, are seeing a drop in ratings as the new DTT law takes effect. "Other TV," which includes the DTT category, jumped to 17.5% in '07, compared with 13.8% in '06.

The mobile TV market has also been growing rapidly in Gaul, with the country boasting more than 80 TV channels available on mobile phones. France's major TV networks and media groups -- TF1, M6 and Canal Plus -- signed a charter in

January vowing to work together to develop the country's mobile TV technology. Elsewhere, TF1 maintained its No. 1 status in 2007, with 30.7% of total audience shares in the territory over the past year and the 100 best TV ratings for the year, all channels included. French fiction programming is still struggling to find its place among hit U.S. series on every network, especially TF1. TF1 deputy general director of programming and head of fiction, Takis Candilis, resigned on March 4 amid falling ratings despite his efforts to revolutionize the French fiction genre on the small screen. TF1's U.S.-style series in the 52-minute format failed to capture the 38.7 million viewers per week that primetime U.S. imports draw.

Nevertheless, original homegrown series such as "Julie Lescaut" and "Une Famille Formidable" are providing competition for popular U.S. imports.    

GERMANY

By Scott Roxborough

COLOGNE -- German television remains a tale of two audiences. While the 14-49 demographic, most prized by advertisers, gathers to gawk at U.S. shows airing on commercial channels RTL, Pro7, Sat.1 and Vox, the over-50 crowd sticks to the all-German fare offered up on public networks ARD and ZDF.

Older-skewing German series such as ARD's "funny nuns" sitcom "Um Himmels Willen" and its long-running detective serial "Tatort" consistently win the overall ratings race, as do ZDF programs, from "Love Boat"-style drama "Das Traumschiff" to the phenomenally successful variety show "Wanna Bet ... ?"

But RTL, with an American-heavy schedule that includes "House," "CSI: Miami," "Monk," "Bones" and "Prison Break," remains the channel of choice for the prepensioner set. The Cologne-based network also supplies a steady diet of game and reality formats that are ratings winners with those 14-49, including "DSDS" (the local version of "American Idol"), as well as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and "I'm a Star, Get Me Out of Here!"

RTL's competitors, Pro7 and Sat.1, not to mention the smaller commercial channels Vox, RTL2 and Kabel 1, have dropped most local-language drama from primetime as they chase American-crazy German youngsters.

Imported series, however, have a spotty record. While every German commercial channel has a couple of dependable ratings winners -- Pro7 with "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy," Sat.1 with "NCIS," Kabel 1 with "Cold Case" -- the list of U.S. series that deliver is short -- and getting shorter. Kabel 1 has had major problems with the new series of "Without a Trace," as has RTL2 with "Heroes." Vox standbys "Gilmore Girls" and "Crossing Jordan" are ending their runs, and Pro7 hasn't been able to find an audience for "Lost" or "Supernatural."

With homemade fare also underperforming -- RTL just canceled "Post Mortem," its big-budget attempt at a "CSI"-style medical procedural -- channels are filling their schedules with reality formats. Pro7 has locked down the femme audience with "Germany's Next Topmodel," hosted by local supermodel Heidi Klum, and the huge success of Vox's home- cooking format "Das Perfekte Promi-Dinner" has kicked off a new wave of German gastronomic reality shows.

But American series remain a stable, and German networks show no sign of losing their appetites for acquisitions. NBC Universal's "Eureka" has gotten off to a strong start on Pro7. Vox is slowly building an audience for Warner Bros.' "Men in Trees" and 20th Century Fox's "Shark."

And U.S. films remain a sure-fire way of locking down German eyeballs. The German premiere of 2003's "National Security" drew 7.5 million viewers for Pro7 earlier this year, and Sat.1 managed 4.2 million with the umpteenth airing of 1990's rom-com classic "Pretty Woman."   



HONG KONG

By Karen Chu

HONG KONG -- 2008 started with plenty of hype about the launch of digital terrestrial television, which began broadcasting on Dec. 31, 2007, to 50% of the local population. The two terrestrial broadcasters -- Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) and Asia Television (ATV) -- are expected to cover 75% of Hong Kong before the Beijing Olympic Games in August. TVB and ATV have unveiled two and four standard-definition channels, respectively, in addition to the four original terrestrial channel simulcasts and a 24-hour high-definition channel for industry leader TVB Jade. HD broadcast of ATV, which experienced another ownership change last year, comes in selected time slots.

The hype seems to have worked: In a Nielsen Co. survey conducted in late 2007 and early 2008, 80% of the respondents said they intend to buy an HDTV. But the truth remains to be seen in the months leading up to the Olympics.

Indeed, all eyes are on the games. Although TV advertising spending only experienced a slight 1% increase in 2007, broadcasters are anticipating a revenue surge during the games. The total TV ad revenue last year was HK$20.4 billion ($2.6 billion), with HK$15.8 billion ($2 billion) on terrestrial TV, while pay TV ad revenue dropped 3%, tallying HK$4.5 billion ($579 million), according to the Nielsen Co.

Apart from the two terrestrial stations, i-Cable is the official new-media broadcaster of the games, with at least four online channels distributing the event.

Olympics aside, TVB Jade is holding on to its title as king of the local TV industry, as it broadcast the top-rated shows in 2007 ("Heart of Greed") and 2008 ("Wars of In-Laws II"), according to CSM Media Research. The latter dramedy was the first-ever HDTV series in Hong Kong.

For the rest of the market, viewer numbers for IPTV is on a steady rise, the PCCW-owned Now TV recorded 882,000 subscribers at the end of 2007, representing a 7% increase in six months.    

ITALY

By Eric J. Lyman

ROME -- Like most of Italy, the Italian television industry is in a holding pattern as it waits on election returns.

The medium-term future of the television sector was cast in doubt in January, when the government, led by Romano Prodi, collapsed. New elections are set to take place later this month, but until then the fate of the Gentiloni media-reform package Prodi championed will not be clear. Among other things, the reform would limit any single broadcaster's advertising market share and would require some channels to migrate entirely to digital formats by the end of next year.

If former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni wins in this month's vote, it is assumed his government would likely continue with some form of the plan. Rival Silvio Berlusconi -- the controlling shareholder for broadcaster Mediaset -- would likely kill the plan. Until the final votes are counted, nobody knows what to expect.

In the meantime, the country's two largest broadcasters -- state-owned RAI and Berlusconi's Mediaset -- continue with the broadcast strategies that have allowed them to control the television sector for more than a decade.

Now in its eighth season, Italy's version of the "Big Brother" (Grande Fratello) franchise  continues to have more staying power than in many other markets. The program -- in its first season under Mediaset after the broadcaster acquired control of Dutch reality television producer Endemol, the format's parent company -- boasts of being the top-rated "Big Brother"
program in Europe, and it remains the most popular Italian program with non-Italian DNA.

But there are signs that the RAI-Mediaset duopoly in Italy is beginning to erode. La 7 -- the only national free-to-air network not owned by one of the broadcast giants -- saw its market share grow for the fourth consecutive year, though it still remains fairly modest at 4.1%. And Sky Italia -- the satellite broadcaster owned by News Corp. -- also continues to grow, zeroing in on 5 million subscribers and, in some time slots, holding the top position for viewers under the age of 14.

KOREA

By  Mark Russell

SEOUL -- With HD digital cable, HD IPTV and other next-generation services finally rolling out in Korea, the TV industry is poised for big changes to the business.

Most of those changes are still in the future tense, however, since for the moment terrestrial and cable TV are still how the vast majority of Koreans watch television. With the Beijing Olympics coming up, Cheil

Communications, Korea's leading advertising agency, is predicting a 5% jump in general ad spend.

However, as usual for the past couple of years, most of that jump will come from cable TV and new media. Cable television ad spend increased 23.5% in 2007 to top $850 million, after jumping 38.1% in 2006 (according to the Cheil report). Online advertising is surging even faster, up 30% in 2007 to reach $1.2 billion (after growing 37.4% in 2006).

Terrestrial TV ad spend, in contrast, rose just 1.6% in 2006 to reach $2.36 billion (2007 terrestrial estimates are not yet available).

Terrestrial TV is home to local TV programming, while cable TV is where foreign imports (mostly Hollywood) thrive. Once again, "CSI" and its various spinoffs dominate cable ratings, with Orion Cinema Network (OCN) broadcasting the program more than 12 hours a week.

But with IPTV hotter than ever thanks to recent changes to government regulations, the new platform could transform broadcasting.

SK Telecom-owned Hana TV is still the largest IPTV service in Korea, with just over 800,000 subscribers, followed by KT's Mega TV with 300,000, but other groups such as Internet portal Daum Communications have said they intend on offering IPTV soon.

On the other hand, Digital Multimedia Broadcasting, a technology which allows people to watch TV on portable devices and cell phones, even when traveling in excess of 100 kph, has hit a wall recently. TU Media's Satellite DMB service has plateaued at 1.3 million subscribers, and faced with $270 million in losses since its launch in 2005, it recently laid off about 30% of its workforce.

Another 5.3 million people use Terrestrial DMB, but since T-DMB service is free, broadcasters have had a difficult time generating revenue. 

ENGLAND

By Mimi Turner´┐Ě

London -- Call it a flight to safety from gloomy world events and uncertain economics, but British viewers have been feasting on the TV equivalent of serious comfort food -- the costume drama. No fewer than four major adaptations of classic Regency fiction novels have hit television screens in the past six months, and judging by how audiences lapped them up, the trend could be here to stay.

The BBC kicked off the return to bonnet-and-bodice dramas with its epic ensemble piece "Cranford" on BBC1, which is based on the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell. The series -- seven years in the making and a co-production between the BBC and WGBH -- grabbed an extremely healthy 30% share of the viewing audiences when it debuted in November and will be on sale at the market in Cannes.

The 19th-century tale about the impact of railway construction on quiet village life was such a hit, it was promptly followed by another first-time adaptation of a lesser-known novel: Flora Thompson's "Lark Rise to Candleford," which rated between 6 and 7 million viewers.

In between, the pubcaster managed a new version of perennial Jane Austen classic "Sense and Sensibility" that also won over audiences. Not to be outdone, ITV1 aired a new version of Austen's "Persuasion" that earned newcomer Sally Hawkins a Royal Television Society best actress nom.

So can the appetite for horse-drawn carriages, country house parties and wealthy young men in breeches continue? Apparently, without a doubt: BBC head of fiction Jane Tranter has already ordered new episodes of "Lark Rise," and has commissioned a new adaptation of Thomas Hardy's romantic tragedy "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" that will air next year.

Some critics and commentators have been critical about the BBC's so-called "flight to the past," which writer J.G. Ballard dismissed as "phoney." But as long as matrons in crinoline attract bigger audiences than glossy celebrity-driven shows such as "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" you can be sure that more tomes will be taken off the shelf and reworked for a whole new generation. 









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