Chicago -- When it comes to taking a network's programming around the world, dramas tend to do better than comedies, said executives in a panel session at Cable Show 2011 Tuesday afternoon.
"So much of the value of comedy comes in the joke, when you dub and subtitle, it looks less natural," said Hernan Lopez, president/CEO of Fox International Channels, speaking on the panel "Will It Play in Perugia: Cable Programming's Global Ambitions."
But when it comes to musicals on television, the result is less clear-cut.
Disney's High School Musical played extremely well internationally, especially in Latin America, where the channel produced three local theatrical movies based on HSM but with tweaks to adapt characters to the local culture. "In addition to success in its original version, it spawned all these different versions and adaptations that actually created local stars for us as well," said Carolina Lightcap, president of Disney Channels Worldwide.
But for a more recent musical success, Fox's Glee, it's harder to create an international version. "We have to spend a lot more time getting artists comfortable with licensing rights to the show," Lopez said. Censorship rules in some countries would also mean some controversial content would have to be toned down in an international version.
For a nonfiction network like Discovery Communications, where international accounts for one-third of the company's revenue and operating profit, its programs travel well because they're less culturally specific. "But there are definite differences from country to country and market to market in terms of how well they do," said Mark Hollinger, with one exception - "Shark Week does well everywhere."
But besides the need for attention to dubbing or adaptions for local markets, the panelists said that generally a show that is successful in the U.S. can be successful abroad.
"A good show will travel," Lopez said. "More often than not, a show that has a great audience in the U.S. that is launched internationally and doesn't work is probably because the channel wasn't right or it wasn't marketed aggressively enough."
He does note there are exceptions, however, based on content. One National Geographic series you won't be seeing in Latin America anytime soon -- Border Wars.