This story would seem to fit in with thoughts on McDonald’s from the other day: reports of US cultural hegemony throughout the world are greatly exaggerated:
- “Whereas American TV shows used to occupy prime-time slots, they are now more typically on cable, or airing in late-night or weekend slots,” said Michael Grindon, president of Sony Pictures Television International.
The shift counters a longstanding assumption that TV shows produced in the United States would continue to overshadow locally produced shows from Singapore to Sicily. The changes are coming at a time when the influence of the United States on international affairs has chafed friends and foes alike, and some people are expressing relief that at least on television American culture is no longer quite the force it once was.
“There has always been a concern that the image of the world would be shaped too much by American culture,” said Dr. Jo Groebel, director general of the European Institute for the Media, a nonprofit group.
The American studios priced themselves out of the market just as competition began to heat up abroad from newly privatized commercial broadcasters and upstart cable and satellite networks, industry executives say. Given the choice, they add, foreign viewers often prefer homegrown shows that better reflect local tastes, cultures and historical events. A recent example is “The Tunnel,” a miniseries about escapees from East to West Germany, which was the eighth most popular show in Germany last year.
Unlike in the United States, commercial broadcasting in most regions of the world – including Asia, Europe and to a lesser extent Latin America, which has a long history of commercial TV – is a relatively recent development.
….First-run domestic fiction programs in the five largest European Union countries – Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and France – increased 5.7 percent in 2001 and have grown 43 percent since 1996, the European Audiovisual Observatory recently reported.
That pattern has played out in many countries around the world. A 2001 survey by Nielsen Media Research found that 71 percent of the top 10 programs in 60 countries were locally produced in 2001, representing a steady increase over previous years. American movies on television still drew big ratings, grabbing 9 percent of the top 10 slots, but American dramatic or comedic series typically rated much lower than local shows.
Although obviously the American TV industry has to rethink how they market/price/distribute their shows to foreign markets which is uncomfortable for them, this story reinforces the fact that there is nothing magical about the hold that American products have over the global imagination: people take what they want and leave the rest based upon economics and taste – cultural imperialism is a myth.