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France’s new wave

With shortform content, event TV and international copros, a new wave of French producers are keeping TV as a core business but experimenting with digital and new collaborative models, reports Pascale Paoli-Lebailly.

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Last year, the French TV market found a new Eldorado. Besides scripted reality concepts, which flourished on both private and public TV networks, the biggest trend in the Gallic market was the blooming of access and primetime shortform comedies.

Easy to schedule and less expensive, than longform, shortform comedy formats could even be classified a French speciality. All broadcasters, including those in the DTT space, found ways to increase audiences numbers with these shows, which followed Canal+’s Bref and M6’s Scènes de Ménages. Adapted by Kabo from Escenas de Matrimonio, the series celebrated its 2,000th episode last March and boasts daily audiences of 4.7 million viewers at 8:10pm, with peaks of 6.9 million.

Broadcast at 7:45pm, competitor comedy Dear Neighbours on TF1, from Aubes/Ango Productions and Lagardère, garners 5.2 million viewers on average with a peak number of 9.1 million.

In the cable and satellite world, AB1 picked up season two of shortform web series Plan Biz. About a pair of young entrepreneurs, it is made by Eric Morillot Productions, a company that now produces for the web in the first instance.

Whether web or TV-oriented, shortform comedy was one category of programming that helped a new wave of indie producer to emerge.

Silex_2Arte France’s 40x3mins animated shortform series about a prehistoric family, Silex and the City (pictured), was based on a comic strip by Jul. It was produced by Haut & Court TV, the two-year old subsidiary of movie producer Haut et Court, which is diversifying into series.

“Coming from feature film production and switching to TV was somewhat natural for us,” explains producer Caroline Benjo. “It is just another way to tell the stories that matter to us, we wanted to pitch TV concepts that appealed to us before meeting any broadcaster’s editorial line. We had a moment in which we immediately fell in love with Jul and shortform was the best format to bring his world to TV.”

Produced with animation studio Je Suis Bien Content, season two of the series is in production.

But short formats are not the only route to market for France’s new producers.

Haut et Court, for example, does not expect animation to become a core business. High-budget drama is what the company wants now to focus on and recent international recognition has come with 8x52mins supernatural thriller They Came Back (Les Revenants – pictured, top). Originally developed as a feature film, the €11.4 million (US$14.9 million) series, which tells the story of a group of dead men and women returning home, was broadcast by premium pay TV broadcaster Canal+ last autumn, winning 1.4 million viewers. It is distributed by Zodiak Rights, which has sold it to Channel 4 in the UK, SVT in Sweden, Hot in Israel and Viasat in Hungary among others.

FremantleMedia has acquired rights to adapt it in the English language with Shameless creator Paul Abbott’s production firm AbbottVision producing.

“Our goal is to have cinema and TV talent together to work with each other, to have upcoming authors emerge on series, political dramas or edgy things that appear as prototypes,” Benjo says. “We definitely take time to develop concepts. The story is our obsession.”

Haut & Court TV is currently developing its first international series for Canal+, the 6x52mins Pink Panthers, a €15 million coproduction with Warp Films & TV and Sky Atlantic in the UK. Written by author Jack Thorne and French crime journalist Jérôme Pierrat, the thriller centres on a Balkan crime gang. Shooting will start in 2014.

‘Eventful’ or ‘provocative’ TV are also the bywords for Patricia Boutinard Rouelle. The head of documentaries at France Télévisions for over 16 years, she founded production comapny Nilaya in 2011.

Knowing the broadcasting system well, she recognises indie producers must “adapt daily to find talent, good stories… and money” as the market is facing a transition to new and business models.

Involved in history, political and social documentary, such as a two-part project Algerian War for France 3 and France 2’s Coca-Cola, The Secret Formula (below), Nilaya is now moving into docu-drama.coca-cola_Secret_Formula_Olivia-au-Mexique

It is a genre with which Boutinard Rouelle is familiar: in 2003 she greenlit A Species Odyssey when working at France 3.

She’s now developing international two-part docu-drama First Man for M6, about the origins of man. A coproduction with Canada’s Idéacom International, the project will use CGI elements to relay the story.

“I’m starting a R&D process to get accustomed to new media and digital writing techniques, as the project will be multiplatform and digital,” Boutinard Rouelle says.

Another relative newcomer on the French TV scene, Newen, allocates about 3% of its turnover to R&D. Founded three years ago, the group was one of the first of the new wave of producers.

It combines well-known prodcos and new labels and produced a cumulative 911 hours in 2012. It is behind France 3’s serial Plus Belle la vie and Emmy award winning police series Braquo, which is on Canal+ and whose US remake is handled by Asylum Entertainment.

“Newen is a kind of laboratory for French creation,” CEO Fabrice Larue says. “With a focus to export our original formats internationally.”

Topped by Alexandra Crucq, the R&D division has licensed dating format Can You Feel Love to Novy Kanal in Ukraine, and daily gameshow Harry, a copro with Big Nose, to France 3.

Previously sold to ATV Turkey, the Harry format has been optioned by Endemol in Italy and in the US. Can You feel Love has been picked up in Canada, the US and UK.

Three indies are part of the Newen Network, Telfrance, CapaTV and Be Aware, and they in turn comprise several other indie banners. They coordinate a format exchange club of Euro prodcos designed to facilitate the circulation of formats and ideas.

Newen Network is now looking for new partners from Israel and the UK and opening up to drama formats and international drama copros. The first scripted project is a German-French adaptation of Israeli series The Agency about the Mossad intelligence agency.

Picking up formats is less easy for Jean-Baptiste Jouy, the former France 2 head of programmes and Banijay execuitve, who reactivated his indie company, Step by Step, in mid-2010 with a focus on cultural and music programming.

With Presto Media, it co-created two seasons of France 2’s music format La Grande Battle, a contest based on classical music, which it hopes will appeal to TV markets in Spain, the UK, Japan or Belgium. Banijay International and Matthieu Porte’s Can’t Stop Media are sharing international distribution duties.

Season two of the show added in live second screen developments. “I like mixing genres and talent to offer new kinds of shows combining entertainment for large audiences with cultural material such as classical music,” Jouy comments. Using this approach, the producer is currently developing the French version of Flemish cultural quiz The Smartest Person in the World.

Balancing activity between TV and digital, all of the new wave of producers are making forays onto the web and mobile and testing digital experiences.

Telfrance Série is developing a €1 million, 8x52mins participative transmedia concept for France 5 called Anarchy and Newen’s new label, Taranja, has delivered 10x6mins web series The Operators to DTT net France 4.

The French TV market is more and more mixing broadcast, technical, writing and production talent, giving producers the possibility to address various TV channels and digital platforms. Integrating social TV and internet elements into programmes, David Bensoussan works on both sides.

Through Goldenia, which he set up in 2009, the former entertainment producer at R&G produces shortform shows on economics for Yahoo! Finance, and develops the TV version of mathematical web collection Petits contes mathématiques.

Shown on Cité des Sciences’ web TV channel and FTV’s Curiosphère, the former educational online channel that is now part of francetveducation.fr, the videos will be adapted into a shortform children’s series called Un Monde sans… for France 5.

The project is a coproduction with Canada’s Sardine Productions, and will explain basic mathematical notions.

“The web is an experimental platform and a launch pad to television,” Bensoussan notes.

The internet is also a way to make programmes live beyond their first TV run. That’s why factual indies What’s Up Films, Bellota Films and graphic studio Cellules just founded joint production label Red Corner.

Matthieu Belghiti, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Pierre Carrique are behind What’s Up Films, the producer of docs Staircase and Staircase, The Last Chance for Canal+, about Michael Peterson, the novelist convicted of killing his wife.

The new label is also working in the realms of digital content with the provisionally titled D/Doc, an online marketing app, which aims to promote doc productions through web portals and social networks. It will also provide viewers with information about the films. Soon available to third-party professionals, D/Doc will be fully tested with What’s Up’s upcoming one-hour doc for Arte Mr and Mrs Zhang, about migrants going back to China.

“Digital audiences are fragmented and our productions must be ingeniously highlighted on all emerging platforms,” Matthieu Belghitti says. Embodying the spirit of the new wave of French producers, he concludes: “We need to integrate new tools now and it’s important for indies not to work alone.”

The New Wave and YouTube

Last November, Black Dynamite and The Social Company launched comedy channel Studio Bagel and it became You Tube’s most-screened channel across Europe.

Created in 2012, Black Dynamite, which makes TV magazine shows and drama, is run by former TF1 executives Eric Hannezo and Guillaume Lacroix. The Social Company is owned by new media producer Lorenzo Benedetti.

Offering sketches and parodies, Studio Bagel has attracted 238,000 subscribers and generated 18 million views across its range of videos, two-to-three of which are uploaded each week. And it is set to launch a new network focused on video games.

“Digital production is not a business yet and traditional media remains our core target,” Lorenzo Benedetti admits. “But we’re working on developing audiences and our content is self-financed. At least, we don’t lose money.”