For television producers the world over hitting the big time means selling their shows or formats to the US market. Big Brother would have remained an interesting concept in the Netherlands without it. There are, indeed, many examples.
Travel Channel will broadcast a 12-hour slow TV show on arguably the most hectic day in the lives of Americans, Black Friday, November 27th, known for combat shopping, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday. LMNO Cable Group acquired format rights for slow TV from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK and will produce the show. It’s the first NRK format sold in the US.
“It is not easy to succeed there,” said NRK format manager Ole Hedemann in a statement (March 25). “It is amazing that of everything it was the slow-TV which made it. That's because the idea behind slow-TV is unique enough that it really stands out in a TV landscape where a great deal is very similar.”
When NRK created the slow TV genre in 2009 with a seven hour train journey broadcast the world of TV paid little attention other than to giggle at the novelty. After the 12 hour Fireplace show attracted 20% of Norwegian viewers a few years later that changed. More slow TV has been produced, delighting viewers across Scandinavia and soon the UK and the US. “While everyone else is out hustling and bustling to get the latest deals on Black Friday, we’re giving out viewers a chance to unwind with 12 hours of reality in real time,” said Travel Channel spokesperson Ross Babbit to Hollywood Reporter (March 23). Other than the schedule date and length show details remain under wraps except that it will be “a road trip.”
Travel Channel is one of several specialty cable and satellite channels owned by Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) (65%) and Cox Communications (35%). SNI is in the process of acquiring Poland’s biggest privately owned TV broadcaster TVN and holds a 50% stake in UK TV Channel Five. Cox Communications is one of the largest US cable TV providers. Hollywood-based LMNO produces all kinds of TV.
Regular followers of big name TV star antics have certainly noted the career change of Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson. After a sharp and pointed internal investigation BBC general director Tony Hall notified one and all that Mr. Clarkson’s contract will not be renewed. To the grumbling of those deriding its “political correctness” the BBC has a problem with employees, even star performers, who physically and verbally attack other employees. (See earlier article here)
Motor-head show Top Gear has a worldwide footprint, contributing significantly to the coffers of commercial arm BBC Worldwide. Lord Hall made clear that Top Gear will have a new season, just without Mr. Clarkson. Certainly BBC Worldwide lawyers are fielding inquiries from concerned broadcasters.
As a celebrity show host Mr. Clarkson will most certainly entertain offers of new employment. UK broadcaster ITV is rumored to have interest though Channel 4 and pay-TV operator Sky seems to have taken a pass, fearing “another controversy around the corner,” said an anonymous Sky source to Huffington Post UK (March 26). Another possibility, often cited by marginally reliable media watchers, is a deal with US-based SVOD operator Netflix.
No new job in the UK for Mr. Clarkson is even close to a firm, a previous commitment to another BBC show a bit up in the air as police investigate the producer punching incident. But fate moves in mysterious ways. Russian channel TV Star (Zvedza) has reached out, reported vesti.ru (March 26), inviting Mr. Clarkson to Moscow to “discuss the possibility of cooperation.” TV Star is operated by the Russian Armed Forces Broadcasting Company. Russian channel NTV broadcast a Russian-language version for a few years but dropped the show in 2007 for low ratings.
Nothing at the European Commission is more sacrosanct than the single market. Copyright rules have long been a target, with little progress. The digital age offers distinct challenges.
“I am under no illusions,” said Andrus Ansip, EC vice president charged with digital single market policy, revealing his outline for a forthcoming Digital Single Market strategy. “It will be an uphill struggle. It is harder to create a digital single market than a physical one.”
Rights holders from audiovisual producers to sports leagues have reaped rich financial benefit from territorial copyright protection. For content distributed online a few lines of code makes identifying geographic location simple and quite abrupt. “I hate geo-blocking from the bottom of my heart,” said Commissioner Ansip, quoted by dpa (March 25). (See more about intellectual property rights here) Because of licensing restrictions some audiovisual content in blocked in certain countries or different prices are charged.
This particular initiative tackles copyright narrowly, limited to online distribution, limited further by cultural exceptions. The bigger target is online shopping, with big US providers (Amazon, eBay, et.al.) taking 57% of the European e-commerce total while cross-border revenues of European e-commerce portals are a scant 4%. The full EC digital strategic plan will be revealed in early May.
Meanwhile, EC Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced, as expected, a year-long official investigation because “some companies may be taking measures to restrict cross-border e-commerce.” The EC has been investigating Google’s alleged sins for four years. This will certainly extend beyond Amazon to Netflix. “I can go to Italy and buy a pair of shoes but I am unable to do that from my home,” she said, quoted by Bloomberg (March 26). “I cannot understand why I can watch my favorite Danish channels on my tablet in Copenhagen, a service I paid for, but I can’t when I am in Brussels.”
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