Walt Disney's international television arm said on Monday it would let viewers of Finnish commercial broadcaster Nelonen pay to watch hit shows on the Internet four days after their U.S. release.
Disney-ABC International said the deal with Nelonen, part of SanomaWSOY group, marks the first time the company has introduced multiple network series to non-U.S. markets so soon after release.
Shows being offered include series such as Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Lost.
Each episode will cost 3 euros ($4.2), and viewers can watch it up to 10 times within the next 24 hours of purchase.
Finland was particularly attractive to Disney, given the country's relatively high broadband penetration and viewers' appetite for legally downloading and paying to watch shows.
We and Disney have a learning perspective here. Finnish people easily take up new technologies. As a relatively small, homogeneous market, Finland is a good test bed for consumer behavior, Finnish Nelonen's channel head, Pirjo Airaksinen, said.
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but other Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) services that provide television programming via broadband cables often involve a fee being paid by the broadcaster and revenue sharing.
Disney has made much over the past year of its desire to pursue new business models in growing markets outside the United States.
However, the Finnish agreement also reflects efforts by major studios and networks to get movies and television shows released faster to help combat piracy.
Arash Amel, a senior analyst at media research company Screen Digest in London, said the speed with which viewers in the U.S. could load television shows onto their computers and then circulate them on file-sharing or user-generated sites meant the broadcasting industry was moving faster towards simultaneous release for big shows.
(Uploading such shows) is happening on a mass scale, and it means the windowing problems studios have for movies is now visiting the television sector, Amel said.
Amel said the growing threat of piracy meant companies were having to work faster and experiment more with getting shows to as many markets internationally as quickly as possible.
Nelonen said it had approached Disney-ABC to launch the service and the shows would now become available up to a year ahead of their screening on Nelonen's terrestrial channel.
Traditionally, it has taken anywhere between three and six months for U.S. shows to appear on European television screens, but that gap has been narrowing sharply.
It is an old-fashioned model of doing business, which is all about content owners, networks and broadcasters controlling what viewers watch and when and in the era of Internet that model has crumbled, he added.
The move to reduce the gap was underscored in January when British-based satellite operator BSkyB began showing Lost, one of the world's most popular TV shows, to UK viewers four days after it had aired in the U.S.
Nelonen said the service may include commercials as it evolves further.
It remains to be seen if it will eventually be the consumer or advertiser who pays (for the shows), Nelonen's Airaksinen said.
Nelonen reaches 2.1 million viewers a day with its TV-channel.