Written by TV

TV Scheduling and Piracy

If there’s one thing that UK TV broadcasters have largely worked out in the last few years, it’s that the ease of accessing television shows through nefarious internet-related means makes it smarter if you try to minimise the risk.
Sky has learnt this lesson the hard way in the past, and now regularly schedules its major US acquisitions as close to their US airdates as possible. On Monday HBO’s fantasy saga, Game of Thrones, ended its first run, being broadcast less than 24 hours after it had aired on the US mother network.
When Lost finished last year, Sky ran a simultaneous early morning broadcast of the final episode. It meant that fans could read the message boards safe in the knowledge that they weren’t going to run into spoilers (or at least no more than usual).
It’s noticeable that science fiction and fantasy series are peculiarly susceptible to this kind of thing. With their complicated story arcs and sometimes rabid fanbases, the UK networks have learnt that the larger the gap between the initial broadcast in the US and the UK broadcast, the more that their viewing figures might be damaged by fans who simply can’t or won’t wait and hit the torrents.
It’s not always easy mirroring the US completely. There’s a reason why UK networks have traditionally started new series of US programming in January, three or four months after the series premiered in the States. US networks regularly run re-runs mid-season. So few original epsiodes air in December and January, while busy “sweeps” months are packed with fresh programming. Then there are US holidays that mean that even networks like HBO take a week off.
This year BBC America started broadcasting Doctor Who the same weekend as its UK airings. Clearly BBC America bosses believed that their potential audience was being eroded by US fans downloading ahead of time. Even a week was too much.
Indeed Doctor Who’s executive producer Steven Moffat hit out at people who release spoilers on the internet. He may have been referring to those who’ve caught early glimpses of episodes, but it’s still a spoiler if you’ve not seen the show.
So with that all mind, what on earth is going on with the scheduling of the forthcoming new series of Torchwood?
This new series has been shot to a large extent, in the US. It’s a co-production with cable network Starz (home of sex’n’swords series Spartacus), and they’ve long been dangling the start date for the new 10-part series: The 8th of July.
That’s a Friday, which perhaps isn’t the best day for the BBC to run a major drama series. I suspect that they’re thinking more Monday-Thursday for their scheduling. But Sunday might also do.
However, as the new series received a public launch last night, we read this:
The series will air in the US in early July and be shown later in the summer on BBC One.
Now that might mean the following week: the BBC has not released schedules for Week 28 (9 – 15 July) yet. But if that’s the case, then why not say now?
As it stands, it sounds as though the scheduling between Starz and the BBC hasn’t been “synchronised”. And that’s what I don’t understand. If you’re going to make these kinds of co-production deals, joint agreement on a scheduling pattern should be part of those discussions. Perhaps it was, and the BBC, for reasons of its own has decided to schedule separately. But I’ll be amazed if that doesn’t impact on ratings.
The poorly received Prisoner remake was scheduled nearly six months after its US airing by ITV. But then little might have helped that series. Channel 4 is showing Camelot at the moment, with episode 3 shown on Saturday. But Starz (yup – them again) has already concluded the 11 episodes of the first season earlier this month. But to be fair to Channel 4, they just acquired that series – they didn’t co-produce it.
In the scheme of things, none of this really matters. But in a world where even Hollywood has realised that global release dates make sense, it seems foolhardy to do otherwise. Ratings will be impacted, and that might affect whether future series get commissioned.
[Update] In the end, the BBC has scheduled Torchwood for July 14, 6 days after its US airing. We also hear that UK version will be a little different to the US version. I still believe that’s 5 days too late, but better than 10 days or two weeks.