World watches American TV, not always legally

World watches American TV, not always legally

LOS ANGELES - Fun TV fact: "Desperate Housewives" is a cult hit in North Korea. Slightly less surprisingly, shows like "Breaking Bad" and "House" are watched everywhere, from Latin America to China to France.

But, as America's TV stars and bosses gather in Los Angeles this weekend for the Emmys, the massive success of US shows abroad also highlights a clear problem - a huge proportion of viewers are watching their products illegally. "It's definitely a big problem," said Tim Westcott, senior TV analyst at international media consultancy IHS Screen Digest.

"People outside the US can download pirate copies of a new US show only minutes after it's aired in the US via various file sharing sites," the London-based expert told AFP.

Beth Braen of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) added: "Piracy is as big an issue for the TV industry as it is for their film counterparts."

Worldwide popularity

Of course, American TV series have long been popular around the world - "Baywatch," "Starsky and Hutch" and "Dallas" were staples of television decades before the latest crop of hit shows. "House of Cards," "Breaking Bad" and "Game of Thrones" are among those vying for glory - and increased riches boosted by awards success - at the Emmys on Sunday.

But they are popular way beyond America's shores. And the growth potential is enormous: global pay TV revenue last year jumped by nearly 30 per cent to over $184 billion (S$230 billion) , according to a recent study cited by the Hollywood Reporter. For example, in France - long proud of its "exception culturelle" that protects its own film, television and music producers - American TV shows now dominate TV schedules.

The most popular include "House" - "Dr House" in French - and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" ("Les Experts"). The biggest hit, "The Mentalist," regularly gets over seven million viewers per episode on France's biggest private channel TF1.

In China, US television shows are hugely popular, even if there is little opportunity for viewers to watch them on the giant nation's state-controlled television stations. HBO dramas are particularly a hit with Chinese viewers, and are available mainly through illicit online streaming, usually the day after they have been aired in the United States, with subtitled versions following soon after. In Japan, US TV shows are popular, with even long-running hits such as "Columbo" still garnering viewers.

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