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The Dallasification of Europe - America's Influence on European Culture

03/04/2014 14:34 BST | Updated 02/06/2014 10:59 BST

With the European Commission's red lines firmly drawn on the limitations of the TTIP free trade agreement, the European audiovisual sector is safe at last. So what's next for the Dallasification of European TV?

Over 16 years ago in 1998, the Washington Post reported that 'America's biggest export is no longer the fruit of its fields or the output of its factories, but the mass-produced products of its popular culture.' The success of shows such as Dallas, Dynasty and Miami Vice in the Continent made Hollywood our biggest import, but caused waves in cultural circles, who were worried about the effect such an influx might have. When De Bens et al. coined the word 'Dallasification', they were referring to a phenomenon all too familiar to us now - the homogenizing inflow of American culture and entertainment onto our screens and into our homes.

These worries haven't shifted - in fact, with globalization accelerating at an unforeseen pace, one could say that these worries have intensified. The promise of a record-breaking TTIP Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the US has been hampered by the very same issues that challenged us in the 80s. How do we retain our cultural integrity and diversity when pitted against the American giants of entertainment such as 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Corp and HBO?

Quotas vs. competition

Despite much talk from the Barroso Commission of not wanting to draw 'red lines' in the TTIP free trade negotiations, last June French intervention ensured that the audio-visual sector was excluded from the negotiations. This allowed existing legislation regarding the protection of European culture in the EU and in Member States to stay as they are, and guarantees that any quotas that have been imposed will stay in place. However, if we are truly committed to an ambitious and game-changing free trade agreement with the USA, is it time that we revisit the issue?

The Television without Frontiers Directive of 1989 was seen as a decisive step towards protecting European culture from American advances, but did it work? The emergence in the 80s and 90s of such gameshows as 'La Roue de la Fortune' would suggest differently, with most critics arguing these were simply 'quota quickies' - American programmes adapted into an European format simply to satisfy the directive. Even now, French or German cinema cannot purport to contend with Hollywood, which still accounts for over 60% of the global market share. The question remains - keep the quotas or start competing?

The Danish revolution

Here, the oft-cited success of Danish television and film might provide a useful comparison. In January of this year, it was announced that three Danish movies are in the running for the 86th Academy Awards - not to mention the impending HBO adaptation of Borgen for American screens. Having conquered Europe, Birgitte Nyborg is going across the Atlantic. Once broadcast, Borgen will be the third major television series after The Killing and The Bridge to have been successfully adapted and introduced to the US market. Is this not the way forward?

Of course, we are not quite at the stage where we can realistically envision US audiences relying on French subtitles for their entertainment - but the success of Danish drama is an encouraging sign. Ideally, we should be confident enough in our abilities in producing European entertainment to allow the TTIP free trade negotiations to proceed without limitations or 'red lines'. For now, however, it seems that the quotas are here to stay.

So what next for the Dallasification of European screens? If European entertainment isn't ready to compete with its American counterparts today, then when will it?

The Borgenification of the internet

Perhaps the answer lies in the runaway success of exclusively online programming, such as that of House of Cards on Netflix. The French have already expressed the worry that the US might out-manoeuvre Europe on new developments in the entertainment industry - but is the rising popularity of online entertainment an indication that we should be investing now, not complaining later?

Despite the Commission's insistence that the exclusion of the audio-visual sector from TTIP free trade talks is not a 'carve-out', it won't be changing for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, perhaps now is the time for Europe to conquer screens over the pond with some 'Borgenification' of its own.