Italy: Homegrown fare rules, but American fare plays nicely

U.S. shows occupy top-shelf space

United Kingdom

Local drama still rules on Italy’s two major networks, RAI and Mediaset. Still, U.S. shows have been playing nicely in primetime lately, though not on the two webs’ flagship stations, RAI 1 and Canale 5.

“CSI Miami” is currently the top Italo import, scoring an average 16% share on Mediaset’s youth-oriented Italia 1, neck-and-neck with “House,” which pulls in a 15% average share on the same channel. Italia 1 also airs “Prison Break” to a better than 10% average share.

That may pale in comparison with “Capri,” the local skein set on the Italo isle which has been attracting an average 23% share on RAI 1. But it’s still a lot better than the 8% average audience being garnered by Italo cop show “La Squadra” on RAI 3.

CBS Paramount’s “NCIS” is also reaping a respectable 12% average share on RAI’s youth-oriented RAI 2. So while Hollywood might not dominate, it definitely figures prominently.

That said, there is a tendency in the Italo TV community to downplay the value of U.S. shows, partly because audiences don’t always live up to expectations.

Italia 1 in early October pulled the third season of “The OC” due to lackluster ratings.

Earlier this season, both “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” underperformed on RAI 2. Both had previously played nicely on the Sky Italia box, which may have been part of the problem.

Audience erosion caused by having U.S. shows play first on pay is the gripe RAI’s main buyer Carlo Macchitella has with Sky’s Fox Channels Italy, which has been outbidding RAI and Mediaset for firstrun rights to various Yank skeins.

“Selling pay TV rights first is a big mistake because it significantly diminishes the value for free TV,” Macchitella bemoans, claiming that Fox’s aggressive bidding should drive down free TV prices, though that may be wishful thinking.

U.S. skeins have not been fetching the previous high of $200,000 per episode , instead commanding about $80,000 an episode from the over-the-air players.

While RAI and Mediaset earmark most of their $250 million annual programming budgets for local drama, both have multi-year mega-million dollar deals in place with the U.S. majors. RAI has one with Disney, and Mediaset with Universal, Fox and DreamWorks.

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