No question: The world loves U.S. television. Shows like House, Grey’s Anatomy or Mad Men have been a hit around the world. But for every House, there’s a Sons of Anarchy: An edgy cable show that doesn’t always translate well for the average European, which means it can be challenging to get enough people to tune in. Unless you take them online.
That’s the lesson to be learned from a new strategy used by Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1. The country’s biggest not publicly funded TV company recently started to use its YouTube clone (s GOOG) MyVideo to exclusively stream some U.S. TV shows, and instantly hit a nerve with viewers: Its online-only showing of Sons of Anarchy clocked some 4.5 million views, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s TV blog.
This early success was enough for ProSiebenSat.1 to bring another U.S. show online: Spartacus debuted on MyVideo in March, and brought the site 13.5 million views. Encouraged by that success, ProSiebenSat.1 decided to air the show on TV too, where it became a success as well.
And the TV presence, in turn, helped to bring more viewers to MyVideo, in part, because the site offered an option to view the show in English. That’s a big deal in a country where virtually every movie and TV show is dubbed on TV. Fans of Mad Men regularly have to wait for the DVD release to hear Don Draper in his native tongue – or get the original via BitTorrent instead. MyVideo told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s TV blog that the English version brought in another 1.5 million views – a nice bonus that justifies paying a little more for the rights to show the series in English as well.
ProSiebenSat.1’s online-first strategy has been working so well that the broadcaster wants to premiere five to seven new shows on MyVideo per year going forward. It’s an easy bet for the company, because it has to buy big bundles of programming from Hollywood. And for every prime time blockbuster, there’s a more edgy show that is better suited for online distribution.
Of course, this trend also works the other way around: Hulu has been aggressively acquiring exclusive rights for T.V. shows from the U.K. and elsewhere that wouldn’t work all that well on U.S. TV, but are poised to hit a nerve with the site’s online audience. In doing so, the site has become a little bit of a testbed for Hollywood as well. One example: The BBC show Misfits became a big hit on Hulu, which prompted Hollywood to adapt the show for U.S. audiences.