SYDNEY — The biggest change Down Under this TV season — one of the most competitive on record — has been the host of U.S. shows opening here day and date with their Stateside bows.
It was championed by terrestrial Network Ten, which aired “Jericho” in September 2006. Skein had a respectable bow of 1.2 million and the idea received good viewer feedback.
Things ramped up in May when Ten and paybox Foxtel inked with 20th Century Fox Television for content and made sure that the day-and-date option was written into the contract.
Since then a host of shows have launched in Oz within a day or so of their Stateside debuts, most to very solid auds.
The practice is going under a range of marketing monikers.
Commercial web Seven calls it Fast Track. Ten uses a more Web-based term, boasting it is Streamed Direct while rival Nine is tagging its shows as “direct from the U.S.”
Skeins include “Californication,” “Life” and “House,” all on Ten; “Bionic Woman” and “Prison Break” on Seven; and the recently canned “Viva Laughlin” on Nine.
“This year we have really evolved it,” says Ten’s Beverly McGarvey. “We have different types of shows for different types of audiences and what it has shown us is there is an appetite for it across the board.”
McGarvey believes the trend is driven by the need to cut piracy and the ability to capitalize on the “global buzz” of shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “House.” In the past, these hits have been in the gossip mags Down Under long before they have gone to air.
But there were reasons why the webs delayed the move.
“It’s expensive, it’s logistically difficult and there was no reason to do it sooner because people couldn’t get the episodes illegally,” McGarvey says. “Times have changed and we have to evolve or we will be left behind.”
Web-savvy viewers have long decried the delay, sometimes up to six months.
This need for change is echoed by Seven’s programming topper Tim Worner, who says a day-and-date release suits serials, which drive viewers to find plotlines on the Web or to illegally download shows.
“We made the move because we felt we had the heavily serialized shows like ‘Prison Break’ and ‘Heroes’ that could make it work,” Worner says. “We decided to launch ‘Bionic Woman’ close to its U.S. launch to capitalize on global buzz — as it turns out it’s been a nice maneuver.”
Worner says the technical side has not been such a huge challenge but that he has been demanding sweat from the Seven promotions department.
“Our on-air promotions department must now turn around promos in a matter of hours in order not to miss one night of heavy exposure,” he says.
McGarvey agrees, saying they may consider adding staff to key publicity areas in the future.
For now there is also the problem of skeins being pre-empted Stateside.
A recent pre-emption meant there was a week where no promo was available for the NBC drama “Life.” Ten countered by playing up the “so new we haven’t even seen it yet” angle in its advertising for the show.
But it is Nine that has been the first to be hit by a cancellation. It arranged its sked around Hugh Jackman starrer “Viva Laughlin,” which was pulled Stateside by CBS after just two outings.
It was particularly galling for Nine as it has been the slowest to adopt the new trend and the web was hastily finding a replacement for the song-and-dance skein last week.
McGarvey says rolling with the punches is all part of the TV game.
“We could have a domestic show that we end up pulling,” she says. “At the markets we try to buy short-run special series, like four-parters, so that if we do have a series that falls away for whatever reason we are prepared.”
And the local free webs are going to have get used to quick maneuvering as the thirst for skeins straight out of the U.S. is not going away.
“There’s always going to be shows that you can hold, things like ‘SVU,’ ” says McGarvey. “But it’s good for us to have shows coming in quickly, it creates good buzz, and you feel you are keeping up.”
Worner agrees: “I would say it has worked for Seven in ’07 so expect more of it in ’08.”