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Around the world in 8000 channels September 30, 2007


Hi guys, found this article in the Age the day before we handed in our proposal.

Was too late to include it in the lit review, but i thought I would post it anyways as it has some really good stats about the media in several countries.


Correspondents from every corner of the globe find out what’s on telly.

Lucy Beaumont

BE IT BORDER SECURITY, SEA PATROL or Surf Patrol – Australia’s TV viewing preferences befit our island nation status and hint at our fears. Then there’s our love of fish-out-of-water scenarios, foxy ladies and men with balls.

Providing a sticky beak into others’ lives and luggage, customs documentary series Border Security is among the most watched regular shows with about 1.8 million viewers. Thank God You’re Here is also a hit, with a similar audience. Dancing with the Stars was an imported success that followed more straightforward talent quests such as Australian Idol. We love to see someone pushed to their creative, emotional or physical limits on screen – perhaps in preference to pushing ourselves off the couch.

In the ’80s, animated character Norm was created as the typical beer-bellied Australian TV viewer. Today, our average time spent in front of the box (three hours and seven minutes a day; pay TV viewers spend 26 minutes more) suggests he is still the norm. Now he has several flat screens to choose from, downloads the latest US shows and increasingly regards pay TV as a necessity – but it’s still sport that has him glued.

A list of the most watched programs since 2001 is topped by the 2005 Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin Australian Open tennis final (4.04 million viewers), 2003 World Cup final (4.01 million) and the Melbourne Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony (3.56 million).

The Chaser’s war on – among other things – APEC security has proved extraordinarily popular, with an average 2.3 million viewers on Wednesdays, making it the fifth most popular show this year. It is the second-highest rating ABC program since the introduction of the people-meter rating system, with top place going to the final episode of Seachange in 2000.

More than 99 per cent of Australian houses have a TV – 67 per cent have two or more and 28 per cent have three or more. A 10-year average indicates ratings for the commercial networks are evenly split (Channel Nine has 31.2 per cent of viewers, Channel Seven 28.4 per cent and Channel Ten 21.3 per cent) with the ABC capturing about 15 per cent of the national audience and SBS 4 per cent. But free-to-air networks are losing their stranglehold. About a quarter of houses subscribe to pay TV and more than a third of Australian broadband internet users regularly download episodes, usually pirated.

And though it often seems that our screens are awash with American programs, ratings tell a different story. Australians celebrated 50 years of their own images last year. Cue the exploding Number 96 apartment building and clips of Graham “The King” Kennedy, roll out Bert Newton. Play the 1987 Neighbours wedding of Scott and Charlene, drool over David Wenham in SeaChange and cringe at Kath & Kim. The foxy ladies’ recent season premiere attracted 2,521,335 viewers nationally, the highest first-episode figures for any program, according to Seven.

Big Brother, Australian Idol and The Block round out the most watched shows in recent years but some suspect our love affair with reality television may be waning. ACNielsen reports that four out of five Australians say there is too much reality on our screens. But then those customs beagles sniff something suspect and we’re hooked again.

Randeep Ramesh

INDIAN TELEVISION’S DEFINING moment arrived in July 1990 when a serial version of the epic Hindu poem The Mahabharata finished. It had entranced 300 million viewers every Sunday for 20 months on the country’s only TV station – the state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan.

No program has matched that – partly because there are now 160 channels – and today’s viewers prefer pop idols to ones found in temples: 30 million tuned in to Indian Idol when it launched a couple years ago.

In a country of more than 1 billion people, just over 110 million Indian homes have TVs – more than half are connected by cable and about 7 million have satellite.

The most popular shows are soap operas, especially those that revolve around the tensions between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.

Ed Pilkington

FOR A NATION SPOILT WITH hundreds of channels, it’s amazing that Americans still have so much in common in their viewing habits. They just can’t get enough of reality TV. Of the top 10 places for most popular shows, as rated by Nielsen Media Research, six are occupied by American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, with up to 30 million people watching them live or recorded that day.

But the delightful communion of veging out in front of the TV knowing that millions are doing the same is fading as greater choice – not least YouTube – fragments the audience. The top four networks recently recorded plummeting ratings, with 2.5 million fewer people watching their shows at prime time than last year.

You can see the drift over time. For instance, the most watched show of 1983 (a MASH special) had 60 per cent of the US TV audience – that’s 50 million homes. The show-stopper this year was the Super Bowl, which had 48 million viewers but attracted only 43 per cent of America’s by now much larger audience of 111 million TV homes.

The three main networks, CBS, ABC and NBC, are important players in that order but the big change was the growing threat of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox that as the provider of American Idol broadcasts the most popular show in US television and whose average audience has overtaken the ailing NBC.

The appalling frequency of advertisements in US TV drives people to TiVo and gloriously ad-free pay television and notably HBO, which had the water-cooler moment of the year – the final episode of The Sopranos.

Jo Tuckman

MEXICAN TELEVISION IS DOMINATED by two private networks – Televisa and TV Azteca – although there is growing pressure for competition.

Some 10 per cent of viewers watch the two state-owned educational channels; cable and satellite services are too expensive for most, while digital competition (and developments) are limited by lack of internet access in most houses. Traditional timeslot TV is the main entertainment and news for most Mexicans, despite frequent complaints about quality.

The prime-time backbone is the telenovela. Classic formats involve largely white and one-dimensional villains and heroes, accompanied by loyal, dark-skinned servants.

More complex plots are creeping in. One of these – the Mexican version of Ugly Betty, screened last year – was phenomenally successful, with the finale garnering the country’s third-biggest audience ever (after an international football final involving Mexico, and a celebrity wedding).

Also last year, presidential elections triggered a popular and unprecedented political satire on Televisa, The Privilege of Governing. This year, the same network has launched a line in home-grown series modelled on US successes such as Desperate Housewives.

Jonathan Watts

WHEN IT COMES TO THE WORLD’S biggest TV ratings phenomena, you can forget Big Brother and The Apprentice. The World Cup final, the Olympics and the Super Bowl may briefly blip into the global consciousness but they have no staying power.

Coronation Street has longevity but its numbers don’t compare. No, the real ratings champion of global television is surely the 7.30pm weather forecast on China Central Television’s (CCTV) channel one: rain or shine, the show claims an average daily audience of 300 million – equal to America’s population.

That is the boast of CCTV, the state-run broadcaster that, in terms of market share and political clout, dominates the world’s most populous nation. CCTV is a propaganda arm of the ruling Communist Party.

The weather follows the 7pm news, which is compulsorily relayed by every provincial station because it sets the national agenda. Most broadcasts start with the activities of senior Communist officials – the order of their appearance strictly determined by their rank in the party.

But while that aspect of TV in China still fits the old-fashioned stereotype of communism, there are developments in viewing habits that better reflect this changing nation.

The hottest program in 2005 was Super Girl Voice, in which viewers were able to vote for their favourite performers via text messaging. This was a revelation in a nation where people do not have the chance to choose their political leaders.

In the early ’80s, just 20 per cent of houses had TV – so families would gather in one place to watch popular shows. By 2005, there were 30 per cent more sets than families, so such shared viewing is a thing of the past.

Content is heavily censored but network bosses are under commercial pressure to be bolder because information is more freely available in other forms of media. Since 1997, the number of TV viewers has remained flat, despite an increase of tens of millions in the population. Internet penetration has surged to more than 150 million.

Giles Tremlett

FOR MOROCCANS, THE PAN-ARAB Super Star talent show was, if not this year’s water-cooler moment, then at least the hottest thing to discuss over a glass of green tea. It was already a hit in Morocco before a tearful Iraqi, Shada Hassoun, won in March. Moroccans eagerly watch not just the finals but also the regional preliminary competitions. This year they are sending three finalists, led by Saad Al Mjarad, to the show produced in Beirut.

Although Morocco has two state-controlled channels, TVM and 2M, it is satellite TV that has revolutionised viewing habits. Be they free-to-air Arab channels such as Al Jazeera and Saudi Arabia’s Iqra, or Spanish channels decoded by pirated cards, satellite is increasingly watched at home or at the open-air cafes where men gather to smoke and chat.

Spanish football, Egyptian soaps and TV preachers and Lebanese game shows are part of the regular Moroccan viewing diet. Al Jazeera’s 10pm Maghreb news show – refreshingly free of saturation coverage of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI – has knocked the rankings of local royal-kowtowing news shows.

Ian Traynor

MANTAS WAS THE TV SENSATION OF the year in Lithuania. The pop singer won Lithuania Dancing Ten, the Baltic version of Celebrity Come Dancing, and then morphed into the country’s heart-throb.

The post-communist country of 3.5 million has one to two TV sets in each of its 1.5 million houses. Satellite dishes are sprouting from the sides of the Soviet housing blocks and the lovely Hanseatic apartments of the capital, Vilnius.

Cable packages are also popular. So, as everywhere in Europe, viewing is more fractured than it used to be as people watch non-terrestrial Russian or Scandinavian channels and BBC World, CNN and Discovery.

The dancing spectacular was a triumph for the national public broadcaster, which has two channels competing fiercely with three commercial channels.

The reality TV epidemic and Big Brother copycats attract most viewers, as does the local Pop Idol. But for the one-off TV event the Eurovision Song Contest is supreme.

Chris McGreal

THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT WOULD prefer that the tens of millions who crowd in front of televisions to watch the fourth-largest network in the world every evening were drawing cultural lessons from the official programs about the common values of Africa’s most populous but divided nation.

But, as in much of the continent, Nigerians rely on a diet of football, religion and soap operas for most of their entertainment – although the order of preference is determined by geography.

Saucy soap operas are kept off many of the local stations in the overwhelmingly Muslim north, where religious broadcasts from the Koran and preachers acceptable to the Government are a staple. In the mostly Christian south, the tangled pursuit of sex, money and power in the soaps – local and Latin American – sits comfortably alongside the praising of God.

Television in the south is packed with Pentecostal services and preachers promising to cure the sick or make the poor rich. Three years ago the Government banned religious broadcasters from showing miracles that are not “provable and believable”. Religious broadcasting is popular also with the local stations that rely on its income.

Football unifies where other popular programs divide. The vicissitudes of Nigeria’s football team provide sporadic hope in a country where it is often in short supply. But it is the English Premiership league that has many on the edge of their seats each week.

Mark Lawson

WHEN I MADE A DOCUMENTARY looking at British television from the ’60s, greying witnesses recalled eerie evening silences on city streets, occasionally broken by the footsteps of a last tardy commuter rushing home to be in front of the set in time for The Prisoner, The Morecambe and Wise Show or The Wednesday Play.

Time romanticises memories but that vision of viewing holds some truth. With two channels and no video recorders, watching TV was a shared experience. Now, the reception of even a hit show is fragmented and elongated.

You won’t see workers dashing through empty streets to catch Little Britain because a section of the audience has recorded it, another is waiting for the DVD box set and a third may be watching it on a notebook PC or mobile phone.

A useful symbol of how consumption has changed is the relationship between the TV industry and the pub. Forty years ago, a standard expression of a show’s success was that it emptied the bars.

Now, a big England football or rugby game is more likely to fill the bars, as games migrate to non-terrestrial channels, forcing old-technology viewers against all historical instinct to leave the house when there’s something good on TV.

Jon Henley

THE ODD THING ABOUT FRENCH TV is that it is so awful. Inane game shows, insipid documentaries, unincisive interviews, irrelevant dramas, incredibly lame cop series that the French have known since (literally) 1976, unbelievably dreadful Saturday night song-and-dance spectaculars presented by a bloke called Arthur and composed of cringe-worthy covers of Gallic hits of the ’70s – c’est un vrai festival.

The problem is that the medium is not considered suitable for serious endeavour. It’s a historical thing: TV was a state monopoly and often its mouthpiece until the mid-’80s. And in France the talent has always headed for the cinema. Once every couple of years there’s a halfway decent drama but the French would never dare, for example, take on a docudrama about contemporary political figures and events.

Last year’s top show was France versus Italy in the World Cup final, which drew 22.2 million. Outside football, the most-watched shows last year were films (headed by ’70s cult French comedy classics Les Bronzes and Les Bronzes Font du Ski, Pirates of the Caribbean, Les Choristes and Asterix), each pulling about 12 million.




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