Territory reports: Programming in 10 major markets

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"Packed to the Rafters"

Australia


By Pip Bulbeck

2008 has been a banner year for Australian TV drama -- and audience appetites for both local dramas and factual programs show no sign of abating.

Leading the pack of a dozen or so local programs to launch or be renewed this year is the Seven Network's empty-nester drama "Packed to the Rafters," which gets over 2.6 million viewers nationally each week -- figures not seen for an Australian drama since the ABC's hit series "SeaChange" aired in the 1990s.

Joining "Rafters" with audiences each week in excess of 1.6 million viewers in the five major cities are Seven's police drama "City Homicide," Nine Network's controversial underworld drama "Underbelly" and "Sea Patrol," while others, such as Nine's "The Strip" and new Ten Network police drama "Rush," are also proving popular. They join stalwarts like "McLeod's Daughters," now in its final season, and the hospital show "All Saints" as programs that outrate popular Hollywood fare like "House" and "NCIS" and local versions of entertainment formats such as "Dancing With the Stars" and "Australian Idol."

Pubcasters the ABC and SBS, which will find out next May if they've been successful in their demands for increased government funding for the next three years, have also had more hits than misses in 2008 with local shows. The music trivia program "Spicks and Specks" and advertising panel show "The Gruen Transfer" have topped the ratings for the ABC, while SBS seems to have a success with "Top Gear Australia," the first local version of the hit BBC program to be produced outside the U.K. It premiered in late September to a national audience of over 1.4 million -- not bad for a channel that considers an audience of 400,000 good for its regular programs.


"Flashpoint"

Canada

By Etan Vlessing

Canadian broadcasters got their game back in 2008, with homegrown dramas that gun for the border.

"The Guard," a high-octane drama from Halifax Films and Brightlight Pictures, portrays four offbeat Canadian coast guard rescue workers at work and play on the Pacific Northwest coastline.

"They're trolling the West Coast, but also dealing with Canadian politics and all the issues that brings," Christine Shipton, vp original programming for Canwest Broadcasting, says of the unabashedly Canadian drama.

"Guard" bowed to around 800,000 viewers -- in a market where 1 million represents a popular hit -- before settling down to a season average of 660,000, according to BBM Nielsen Media Research.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) hit a homer with "The Border," a White Pines Pictures drama about Canadian customs agents battling the bad guys and intrusive U.S. Homeland Security agents at Canadian airports and border posts.

"We developed it with the idea that there has been great interest among Canadians in how we define ourselves by saying we're not American," Kirstine Layfield, the CBC's executive director of programming, says of the drama, which pulled in an average 775,000 viewers in its first season.

And CTV, Canada's top-rated primetime broadcaster, literally created a border-crosser in "Flashpoint," a homegrown drama about elite cops in Toronto that U.S. network CBS bought for its Thursday-night schedule.

"It's Toronto streets, and the mailboxes aren't painted 'U.S. Mail,'" says Susanne Boyce, CTV president of creative, content and channels, of the Canadian cop drama.

"Flashpoint," from Pink Sky and Avamar Entertainment, has drawn an average 1.2 million Canadian viewers since its July bow. Additionally, NBC also bought another new CTV drama, "The Listener," a drama about a Toronto paramedic with telepathic powers, for its fall schedule.


"The Game"

China

By Jonathan Landreth

NBC claims that it made more than $1 billion in advertising off of its broadcast of the Beijing Olympics, but it was China Central Television that came out the real winner in the biggest televised media event of the year so far.

Without the cooperation of China's state-run channel -- which has not, and may never, disclose domestic ad spend numbers (ironic that the government can run CCTV like a private company, no?) -- the 17-day event simply could not have happened.

Unlike NBC, CCTV won't soon have a central government election to report, but for the Summer Games to come off without a hitch is tantamount to a vote of confidence from the more than 800 million rural Chinese viewers who got nowhere physically near the event and were, in fact, unwelcome. (Migrant workers who built the stadiums that made CCTV look so good were forcibly removed from the capital.)

Analysts have called China's TV landscape an experiment and a laboratory. Anything but an actual market. That said, the change businessmen hoped would come with the Olympics may be afoot.

After CCTV's feed was watched in some form by 4.7 billion people in August -- making the Beijing Games the most watched Olympics of all time by a wide margin -- the network followed up with a breakthrough in September, too.

Thanks to a joint venture between Sony Pictures Television Intl. and CCTV's motion-picture-making cousin, the state-run China Film Group, the dedicated drama channel CCTV-8 will launch "The Game" in November. With 24 episodes co-created by writers from both Hollywood and China, domestic ratings and overseas sales will tell the real story, but at first glance, this show appears already to have broken the mold of a Chinese TV staple.

To explore the Chinese version of convergence of content on TV, in video-sharing and in video games, Gary Wang, founder and CEO of one of the country's top video-sharing platforms, will deliver a keynote address at MIPCOM. Wang is expected to outline how his company, Tudou, manages to deliver more than 100 million videos daily to more than 10 million of the 250 million Chinese now online, all while staying on the right side of the strict media censors in Beijing.


"Living Cultures"

France

By Marlene Edmunds

France has been hit with a triple tsunami on the homegrown-content front that has players scrambling for cover and hoping to ride out the next storm surge.

Increasing viewer defection from French to U.S. drama, a DTT blitz on terrestrial exclusivity and a ban on evening ads set to begin in January have left the industry worried, to say the least. "There is no good news, unfortunately. Everybody is holding their breath," says Celine Payot, vp sales and marketing for ZED.

The indie HD docu shingle is almost completely dependent on French pubcasters and commercial channels TF1 and Canal Plus for its work. "We took the HD bet five years ago," says Payot of the outfit, which now has a 150-title-strong HD catalogue. At press time, it was producing "Living Cultures," a docu on great oral cultures, for TF1.

Homegrown fiction is clearly in upheaval in France, with Gallic primetime series production down 30% in the first half of 2008, according to FICAM. TF1 held its own with series like "Julie Lescaut," but 12-season vet "St. Tropez" was canceled, and France 2 and 3 and M6 all had major dips in series production.

French fiction exports for 2007 remained steady, with most of them going to Western Europe. "Five Sisters" and "On the Edge" got boosts from Spanish buyers worried about the writers strike at the beginning of the year, but the jury is out on how French fiction will fare in and outside of France for 2008.

While docus and anime have always had more international passport, the industry, especially in fiction, was ill-prepared for the cataclysmic changes now happening in France on all fronts. Marc du Pontavice, chairman and CEO of the successful anime outfit Xilam, believes that in the long run the changes could be beneficial, but coming all at once will lead to some hard times for creators of homegrown French programming.


"112"

Germany

By Bonnie J. Gordon

Casting show formats popular in the U.S. are performing well in Germany, such as the domestic version of the "Idol" franchise, "Deutschland Sucht den Superstar" ("Germany Searches for the Superstar," or "DSDS" for short). Broadcast twice a week in primetime from January to May, "DSDS" had an average audience of 5.3 million and an 18% share. The final contest didn't kick off until after 11 p.m., but it still got more than 4 million viewers and a 23% share. Heidi Klum's "Germany's Next Topmodel" came up with a 22% average market share in the 14-49 demographic and audiences of 3.5 million per broadcast.

But it is a new brand of daytime drama that the industry is watching closely. It's called "112" -- the German equivalent to 911 in the U.S. The show aims to mix emotion-laden situations with primetime-style action sequences in a daily half-hour format.

The idea behind the series is that a special team, comprised of firefighters, police officers and medical emergency workers, is working on a pilot project that could be dropped from the city budget at any time. "112" debuted on German television in August, and within weeks it was reaching almost a million viewers and picking up an 8.8% market share in its 5 p.m. slot.

While one of the producers, Hermann Joha of Action Concept, came from primetime, the other, Michael von Mossner, was responsible for "Marienhof," one of Bavaria Film's top daytime dramas for years. "With this series, we've created an entirely new genre," von Mossner told Blickpunkt:film, a Web site for German media professionals. "I think it's going to make some waves."




"The Marvelous Story of Sister Bakhita"

Italy

By Eric J. Lyman

With Italy's television sector going through a period of rapid change while domestic ad sales erode on the back of slow economic growth and competition from other media, MIPCOM, and the access to foreign markets it provides, is taking on added importance this year.

Italy's two most important content producers -- Mediaset and state broadcaster RAI -- will be at MIPCOM in full force, along with a dozen or so niche producers. They say the stakes are high.

"MIPCOM is always important, but this time it's particularly important simply because access to non-Italian markets has become so essential," says Sesto Cifola, director of foreign sales for RAI's sales arm, RAI Trade.

RAI Trade will be at MIPCOM with an array of titles and series, including "La Meravigliosa storia di Suor Bakhita" (The Marvelous Story of Sister Bakhita), which tells the turn-of-the-century story of an African saint. Cifola says the miniseries has been dubbed into English to increase its appeal.

Meanwhile, Minerva Pictures Group is banking on a strong performance with a lineup of historical films it will shop around at MIPCOM. Among them: "La Rabbia" (The Rage), a weighty documentary about the post-World War II zeitgeist made 45 years ago by iconic Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini and writer Giovanni Guareschi. The film returned to the public eye last year during a retrospective at the second Rome Film Festival.

MIPCOM arrives this year just as wholesale changes in the Italian television sector begin to take root: Mediaset, for example, is in the midst of transforming itself into more of a content producer than a broadcaster. And the rise of News Corp.'s Sky Italia is creating a third pole in the Italian television world -- along with Mediaset and RAI -- at a time when anemic economic growth in Italy is weighing on the entire television sector.


"OL Nippon"

Japan

By Daniel Davis

The current year has seen a continuation of the dramatic downturn that has characterized Japanese TV viewership numbers for the past several seasons. Strong showings from a pair of high-profile summer dramas bolstered ratings for two television networks in the interim, though a lack of similar "event" programs in the fall may lead to a continued decrease in viewers.

The viewership bleed continued full swing in 2008, as local networks like Fuji Television and TV Asahi continued to lose viewers to Western drama-heavy satellite television, locally broadcast import dramas from Taiwan and South Korea, DVD rentals, and video games. The Nintendo Wii was singled out for blame last summer, when numbed viewers drove TV ratings to their lowest numbers in 20 years.

Early 2008 underperformers such as "Puzzle" and the robot-lover comedy "Zettai Kareshi" have left producers turning even more toward low-cost, nonscripted productions.

Numbers improved in the summer, with the third installment of the yakuza high school teacher drama "Gokusen," starring Yukie Nakama, and political fable "Change," starring Takuya Kimura, duking it out in the weekly ratings.

The early numbers held a few surprises, as "Gokusen's" premiere-week ratings bested those of the much-higher-profile "Change," 26.4% to 23.8%. Though "Change's" numbers improved as the series drew to a close -- the final episode drawing a respectable 27.4% audience share -- the Japanese Olympic softball team's gold-medal triumph over the U.S. squad, which drew a huge 47.7% share in August, will most likely remain the most watched event of 2008.

A number of high-profile dramas await in the fall, including "The Devil Wears Prada"-esque drama "Real Clothes," ensemble drama "Scandal" and the job-outsourcing dramedy "OL Nippon." However, with a lack of big-name celebrities such as Nakama and Kimura, hopes have dimmed for the monster-ratings-grabbing smash the networks find themselves increasingly searching for.


"You Are My Destiny"

Korea

By Nigel D'Sa

With the Korean Thanksgiving holiday weekend just past, local dramas were neck and neck for top ratings. The top 10 for the week of Sept. 8-14, according to nationwide viewer-rating research company TSN Media Korea, placed publicly owned broadcaster KBS in the lead, with the class-conscious drama "Mom's Dead Upset" at No. 1. Set in a family-run laundromat, the show quickly rose to an over 30% viewer rating by the 10th week following its February launch.

Also from KBS, the daily drama "You Are My Destiny," released in May, took second place. The show, starring young actress Im Yoon-ah as a blind girl who gets her eyesight back, peaked in August with ratings of 31.6%. Privately owned SBS was third with its hit drama "Gourmet," which premiered in June. The show is the second in a trilogy of SBS dramas based on a popular Korean comic series by Heo Jeong-man (whose work also spawned the hit films "Le Grand Chef" and "Tazza: The High Rollers").

SBS's third Heo installment, also called "Tazza," premiered Sept. 16 to a lot of buzz and expectation but was beat out by MBC's "East of Eden," a twisting revenge drama that has been climbing rapidly since its release three weeks ago. "Eden," which ranked fifth overall last week, took over 28% ratings on the 16th, more than doublin
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