Showing now: networks fast-track airing of foreign TV shows
Fast-tracked ... Doctor Who. Photo: Supplied.
A raft of new television programs will be aired in Australia only hours after they air in the US as TV networks ramp up the so-called "fast-tracking" of programs.
The cable platform Foxtel will spearhead the move, unveiling an unprecedented slate of fast-tracked content, which will be launched this month.
The Ten Network has also confirmed it will launch shows later this year close to day-and-date with the US. Nine and Seven are expected to follow suit.
Sons of Anarchy will air on Showcase two hours after its US premiere.
It follows a strategic move by the ABC this month to deliver new episodes of the cult favourite Doctor Who to its audience as soon as they have aired in Britain.
The ABC is using its online iView platform to make the episodes available every Sunday morning before they air on terrestrial TV a week later. That move has proved a hit with audiences.
Foxtel's strategy, which it will take to market under an "Express from the US" banner, is designed to enhance the service it offers to its customers.
But Foxtel's director of television Brian Walsh says it is also intended to address the perplexing issue of television piracy.
"The 'Express from the US' proposition is a powerful differentiator for Foxtel," Mr Walsh said.
"Ignoring the audience demand for shortening the delivery windows is only serving to stimulate piracy, which as an industry we are compelled to quash."
Research suggests most international TV programs are downloaded from unlicensed sources, such as Bit Torrent networks, during the delay window between their US or British broadcast, and when they are aired on local networks.
Fast-tracking does not stop piracy entirely, but the shorter the delay in delivering a program to its target audience, the smaller the volume of so-called "illegal" downloading.
The first cab off the rank is the first episode of series five of Sons of Anarchy, which will air on Foxtel's Showcase channel from 3.10pm tomorrow, two hours after its US premiere.
This month, Foxtel will also launch Grimm's second season on FOX8 only 36 hours after the US and Boardwalk Empire's third season on the Showcase channel 48 hours after the US.
In October, Foxtel will launch Gossip Girl's sixth season on FOX8 within 12 hours of airing in the US, The Walking Dead's third season on FX 33 hours after the US, Dexter's seventh season on Showcase three days after the US and new episodes of The Vampire Diaries and Hart of Dixie within seven days of the US.
Foxtel will also use the "express from the US" campaign to launch two new marquee shows from its US studio output deals.
The new series 666 Park Avenue, which stars Australian actress Rachael Taylor, will launch on October 1 on FOX8 and screen within 12 hours of its US broadcast and the new J.J. Abrams' series Revolution, which stars Australian actors David Lyons and Anna Lise Phillips, will air on FOX8 36 hours after the US.
The Ten Network, meanwhile, has confirmed it will fast-track a suite of its programs when the new US television season launches next month.
They will most likely include Homeland, The Good Wife, Hawaii Five-O, NCIS Los Angeles, Law & Order: SVU, Glee, Modern Family and New Girl.
Ten will also fast-track several new US shows, but it has not yet identified which, nor clarified how far behind US broadcast the programs would be available to Australian audiences.
A Seven spokeswoman confirmed Seven would fast-track The Amazing Race.
A Nine spokeswoman said Nine would fast-track content but was not able to say, at this stage, which shows would be affected.
There has always been pressure from audiences to increase the volume of fast-tracked content, though the distribution machinery from US studios is not geared towards making it easy for local broadcasters.
In the US, the established industry convention is for the studio to focus on the domestic launch before turning its attention to international broadcasters.
By going day-and-date, Australian broadcasters are effectively competing with US networks to access material from studios.
Mr Walsh said Foxtel's programming teams and channel partners have been working to "fine-tune contracts and the mechanisms for the physical delivery of shows" to enable such a large slate of fast-tracked content.
As a rule, the biggest delay is the supply of material, either the actual broadcast master tapes, or promotional and marketing material that accompanies an episode.
Mr Walsh flagged that the strategy was a long-term one for the pay TV provider.
Foxtel will also offer fast-tracked programming for its summer season later this year, he said.
Those programs would include Last Man Standing's second season, which will air on FOX8 within 36 hours of the US showing and the 12th season of American Idol, which would air on FOX8 within 12 hours of the US.
"Foxtel customers are television lovers so, as a company, we can't expect them to wait for these highly anticipated international program launches," Mr Walsh said.