U.S. TV Touching More People Than Ever As Middle Class Grows

Brick by BRIC, the world has been getting smaller across multiple industries. Perhaps the interconnectedness was best exemplified when a group of bankers in Iceland (pop. 320,000) seemingly drove the world to the brink of a financial iceland several years ago.

International businesses that made a fortune expanding into Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain now tout their growth prospects thanks to the growing middle class in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) regions. In media, the global weave is spreading. The Japanese natural disasters' impact on the U.S. auto ad market last year could have happened before, but Netflix is moving overseas and now Fox is making a perspicacious move by launching a drama simultaneously in 100 countries and territories this week.

While it’s hard to refer to the U.S. TV business as a newcomer to globalization, clearly it is beginning to appreciate the opportunities more. It will be a while before an NBCUniversal refers to itself in the vein of Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent calling his company a global business headquartered in Atlanta, but increasingly selling programming overseas seems an awful nice hedge should the TV ad market notably lose force domestically.

Consumer behavior is working in NBCU’s favor and its peers'. News Corp., in fact, has been referred to as a pacesetter.

If it isn’t NBCU distributing “Downton Abbey” into hundreds of countries (yes, it owns a PBS show), it’s Scripps Networks buying Travel Channel International or launching Food Network blocks in the Middle East. U.S. companies are going it alone or partnering with local entities.

Much is made about the Japanese doing everything via a smartphone. But, the growing middle class in the BRICs appears to have more time to watch TV at night on a large screen, which means new audiences of billions. They're also getting DVRs.

Last year, the average daily viewing worldwide was 3 hours and 6 minutes – a 3% increase. That’s a slightly higher jump than in the U.S., using one Nielsen data point.

But in China, the growth in average minutes was double the global trend, according to Eurodata. Several European countries also notably outpaced the U.S., with France up 15 minutes, Italy up 7 and Spain with a 5-minute increase.

While formats like “The Voice” and other singing competitions travel well, not all concepts, especially in the scripted arena, move across boundaries as easily as Jeremy Lin or Kobe Bryant.

Yet, Eurodata says, “If local productions still enjoy the lion’s share of (a country’s top program) rankings, we are nonetheless witnessing a spread of international co-productions that opens up new possibilities for the future of TV.”

And, the research firm says that U.S. shows “continue to export well and fill up programming grids,” noting “Two and a Half Men” is a top-10 show in the U.S. and English-speaking Canada, but also Italian-speaking Switzerland and Australia.    

So, credit News Corp. for making a smart offensive and defensive move by launching “Touch” with Kiefer Sutherland on Fox in the U.S. Thursday -- at about the same time the show is lit up in Russia and about 98 other areas.

The motivation to reduce online piracy is smart. That’s been uncontrollably flowing across borders faster than a deposit goes from Paris to the Caymans. Season two of “Downton” is seen on the BBC first and Americans find it online before PBS debuts it. Japanese covet “Homeland” before it’s available in Tokyo and find it. Maybe worse, Americans drop cable because they can watch “Homeland” and just about everything else on a Japanese site in a living room in Dallas.

With the "Touch" global go, News Corp. is also effectively saying: why should you still be watching library episodes of a favorite show in Shanghai, when you can be watching the latest? Certainly, worldwide tweeting and Facebooking increases the opportunity for popularity to spread across borders, so it’s kind of hollow for an American to plug a gripping plotline -- only to have a reader in Brazil regretting that the episode won’t be available for a year.

And, the ad dollars appear ripe for the taking with new models. Fox sold a worldwide sponsorship of “Touch” to Unilever, where the New York Times reports the packaged goods giant is advertising locally relevant products in different markets. Over time, there may be more growth opportunity to come from virtual product placement, where different brands can be inserted into the same scene in different regions.

So, Coca-Cola could make a deal where Sutherland’s character can be seen drinking CAFÉ ZU (canned coffee with ginseng) in Thailand, Limca lemon-lime soda in India and Vitaminwater stateside.

That way as DVRs become as popular in Bangalore and Beijing as they are in Boston, the marketing can’t be easily wiped off the map.

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1 comment about "U.S. TV Touching More People Than Ever As Middle Class Grows ".
  1. Mark Walker from aka Media Mark , March 23, 2012 at 11:13 a.m.
    So the solution to a shrinking "middle class" in the US, is to refocus sales and marketing efforts abroad, where the "middle class" is actually growing?