Whether it’s the reality juggernaut “American Idol,” the tween-centric “Big Time Rush” or unbridled success story “High School Musical,” programming with a strong musical element shows no signs of relinquishing its hold on ratings in foreign markets. In fact, you’re more likely to see these shows expand their reach through concert tours and the Internet than surrender viewers anytime soon.
“Our shows ‘Big Time Rush’ and ‘Victorious’ do well internationally, and our channels in the U.K. are usually the first to get them because we share a language,” says Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group original programming and development prexy Marjorie Cohn. “Most of the domestic hits travel very, very well in this age group because kids are always interested in music.”
The music pull is so strong that “Big Time Rush” was always imagined as a show about a band that would also release songs for fans of the show to buy, so Nickelodeon partnered with Sony Music for that purpose.
No small number of Disney kids programs incorporate strong musical elements that have captured many young eyes throughout the world. “Hannah Montana” was seen in 158 countries in 30 languages in the second quarter of 2010. “High School Musical” — after being successful on its own — was then recast for localized versions of the show in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. “Phineas and Ferb” reached more than 289 million viewers worldwide in the second quarter of 2010.
The popularity of “Phineas and Ferb” translated to big album sales in the U.S. and internationally as well. In Spain, the show’s Spanish-language version soundtrack entered the album chart in fourth place.
“What you’re seeing is a strong love of music that kids have always had, and that really doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon,” says Disney Channel music and soundtracks veep Steven Vincent. “We’re seeing that kids like seeing the U.S. version of show, and then they also like a version of the show that features kids from their own country, too.”
Shows outside the children’s categories that feature music also earn strong numbers, whether they’re reality based like “American Idol” or “Pop Idol,” or scripted shows like “Glee.”
“We’re waiting to launch ‘Glee’ on larger networks in Spain, France and Italy, but it has been on pay television in France and it’s been the most successful show they’ve had,” says Marion Edwards, international TV distribution prexy for Fox. “They’ve done a short concert tour here in the U.S., so who knows if something like that could happen overseas.”
Edwards is quick to point out that shows featuring songs sung in English can be tough to make popular internationally, because while the dialogue is dubbed in the language of the country in which they air, songs are often left to be performed in English. “Glee” doesn’t face this obstacle, Edwards believes, because the show features songs that have been popular for years and are already well know to audiences all over the world.
The current international interest in shows featuring so much music can be seen as a kind of evolution of the TV landscape.
“There used to be shows like ‘The Lawrence Welk Show,’ which were sort of primetime adjacent and really just showed people singing and dancing, and you had things like ‘Name That Tune,’ ” says Edwards. “As far as I can tell, ‘Pop Idol’ started this whole trend of bringing these shows into the primetime, and there’s no telling when it will stop because music has always held a special place in people’s lives.”