|Children greet Mister Maker in Indonesia|
At the same conference David Weiland of BBC Worldwide told us how surprised the Mister Maker team were, on arriving in Indonesia, to find thousands of children waiting for them. Mister Maker appears on the Asian CBeebies feed. In a mall in South Jakarta, an estimated 8,000 CBeebies viewers turned up to watch the on-stage demo. The 4-storey shopping mall was filled with preschoolers and their parents. Traffic queued to get to the mall for hours before the event.
In Britain we seem to be curiously complacent about our media presence outside the UK.
Is that unfair, with MIP coming up shortly and the Brits, as ever, probably the largest contingent? The UK has indeed been very good at originating and exporting formats, with Paul Smith back in the 90’s setting the trend with Who Wants to be a Millionaire. That surge of activity was driven partly by the revolution caused by the Terms of Trade rules that gave indies a huge incentive to exploit their new-found rights. (ITV was already operating a similar regime at that time as a result of intervention by Competition Authorities).
But could we do more? Formats are worth less than “tape sales”. The most valuable content of all is, of course, drama. There is plenty of English language drama playing around the world, dubbed or subtitled – the trouble it’s nearly all American.
Why is this? What are the key drivers to US success? First, the series are well made, on budgets that exceed those of the UK and other European markets. Second, they do not pose a “cognitive challenge”. Audiences are used to the settings, the venues; the conventions are all familiar.
But there are some deeper issues which make the issue of US dominance a much for contingent, relative affair. For example, the US has had, as the superpower and protector of the free world, the status that goes with that role. It has been a country – and a culture – that people wanted to know about. But times change: much of the rest world now finds the social-democratic model epitomised by the countries of the European Union more attractive.