The “Desperate Housewives” of Wisteria Lane have a new address: Istanbul’s Gul Street. In Russia, Peg and Al Bundy of “Married . . . With Children” have morphed into Gena and Dasha, who inhabit an apartment in Yekaterinburg rather than a suburban home near Chicago.
For decades, American situation comedies and dramas dubbed into other languages have been standard fare on TV screens worldwide. Today, broadcasters in Turkey, Russia, and elsewhere are instead padding their prime-time schedules with locally produced versions of shows licensed from U.S. studios.
The Istanbul housewives — named Yasemin, Nermin, Elif, Zelis and Emel and known as “Desperate Women” — star in the eighth-most watched series on Turkish TV courtesy of Walt Disney Co., which owns global rights to the show. Sony has remade “Married . . . With Children” a dozen times for international markets.
“Right now we see that in the Middle East, the TV world has an exploding appetite for everything,” said Andrea Wong, president of international production at Sony Pictures Television. “Turkey is a key market and Israel is being explored, as is India.”
Reality- and game-show concepts have been sold in multiple markets for many years — think “Survivor” or “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Now, media companies say, increased availability of free and paid channels on satellite and cable systems in emerging markets have spawned a growing appetite for localized versions of American dramas and sitcoms.
Media companies say the shows appeal to audiences who don’t want to watch dubbed or subtitled programs, and in conservative cultures plot lines can be adjusted to avoid offending social mores.
“We have high hopes for this side of the business and continue to work with our local broadcasters in order to engage large local audiences,” said Michael Edelstein, president of international TV production for NBC Universal, which has adapted “Law & Order” in Russia.
Developing countries including Brazil, Turkey, Colombia and Vietnam make up nine of the top 10 fastest-growing markets in terms of ad revenue, according to Informa Telecoms & Media in London. Global advertising, worth $149 billion last year, is forecast to grow 4 percent in 2012, Informa says.
Disney’s operating profit from the United States and Canada in the year through Oct. 1, 2011 was $6.4 billion, little changed from three years prior. Asia-Pacific earnings gained 62 percent to $627 million during the same period and profit from Latin America and other markets rose 67 percent to $293 million.
“Turkish products appeal in the entire region and we can get secondary revenue by licensing the Turkish drama to other countries,” said Catherine Powell, senior vice president of media distribution for Disney EMEA. Turkey’s “Desperate Women,” now in its second season, was licensed by Disney to Dubai’s MBC Group, a free-to-air satellite company covering the Middle East.
As ad revenues in emerging markets rise, broadcasters have more money to spend on programming, said Stewart Clarke, editor of London-based magazine Television Business International. “International TV companies are increasingly keen to have a presence in these markets,” he said, noting that adaptations are also thriving in countries like France and Germany.
TV executives gather early next month at the world’s largest TV content market, Mipcom, in Cannes, France, where adaptations from the U.S. and other countries will be bought and sold. One session at the event will focus on the market for Turkish dramas and their international adaptation.
“Lots of these markets will continue to grow over the years, as western markets mature and growth is leveling,” said Guy Bisson, TV research director at IHS Screen Digest in London. “Russia, Turkey, Latin America are moving from a small offer of TV or cable to a large choice of channels and new pay-TV platforms.”
Once a format is sold to a particular country, the reformatted script and production are almost always overseen by a representative of the U.S. companies.
“We will have a consultant on each show who spends a fair amount of time in that territory,” said Andrew Zein, senior vice president of creative format development and sales at Warner Bros. International TV Production. “Pre-production is the most important time and we want to see location, designs, casting.”
Warner Bros.’s Chinese version of “Gossip Girl,” called “V Girl,” will premier in the second quarter of next year, Zein said. Russia, which Zein calls a “significant market with an appetite for scripted format,” will see the “Without a Trace” series air later this year.
Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Television have purchased production houses in recent years to film original content or remake hit versions. Warner bought Shed Media, the U.K. production company behind “Supernanny” and “Footballers’ Wives” in 2010. Sony has 18 production companies worldwide.
More conservative markets like the Middle East may require alterations. Sony says that the Arabic version of “Everybody Loves Raymond” eliminated a scene where the couple was in bed.
TV executives in China requested their adaptation of the high school musical show “Glee” show the actors in university, said Yoni Cohen, senior vice president for development and sales at 20th Century Fox. “Glee,” one of the top-rated shows in the U.S., could prove problematic in some markets as the show has openly-gay actors and discusses teen sex and teen pregnancy, he said.
“We try very hard not to let other cultures dictate,” Cohen said. “And we’d rather not do a show in the end if it steps beyond an adaptation and into a reinvention.”