Exclusive: Arte & France TV reveal best-rated docs across 2022-23 season

L’Affaire D’Outreau

France Télévisions and Arte have revealed their most popular documentaries to TBI, with exclusive data highlighting the growing interest in true crime programming on the networks.

The Second World War also retained popularity last season on the French public channels, as did docs dealing with Russia, while the true crime genre made progress on France TV, with sex and gender docs performing on Arte.tv.

France Télévisions and Arte provided charts to TBI that detail the best-rating documentaries for the season starting August 2022 to May 2023, and also which shows worked best on streaming, with the two not always the same.

Tribes & trends

In factual, as every year, France Télévisions’ flagship channel France 2 found success with its biannual celebrity-meets-a-faraway-tribe show Rendez-vous En Terre Inconnu, whose best rated episode this season reached 4.3 million consolidated viewers (a 19.6% share).

But next to this usual winner, France 2’s achievement was true crime mini-series L’Affaire D’Outreau, whose first episode was the channel’s second best rated doc. It led the competition when it aired, posting 3.6 million consolidated viewers and a 15.5% share, and while it declined on linear in the second week, the four-part mini-series was the group’s most successful documentary on streaming with 1.6 million views on France.tv.

According to France Télévisions, it was  responsible for 20,000 new account creations.

Another doc bringing France 2 both linear and streaming success was Second World War colourised archive doc Le Crepuscule d’Hitler, which was the channel’s third best-rated doc with 2.7 million consolidated viewers, equal to Yann Arthus Bertrand’ natural history Vivant. The two part mini-series was among the five top docs on France.tv with 380,000 video views.

France 3 reached its best linear audiences with entertainment documentaries, with a biopic about popular late French actor Bourvil securing 2.5 million viewers, while its second best-rated doc was La France De L’Après-Guerre with 2.1 million.

But it is France 5 that was comparatively the most successful with its documentary line-up this season, as the smaller knowledge channel had ten docs watched by more than 1.3m viewers, including four of them getting over 1.5 million and posting audiences shares triple to the channel’s average.

Most watched on France 5 was an episode of travelling hosted-doc series Des Trains Pas Comme Les Autres about Norway, which reached 2 million (8,7%). Then were three docs with 1.6 million viewers: one-off duo Russia Indoctrination Of A Nation and Afghanes, which has several Afghan women of different ages and backgrounds telling their stories, with natural history international coproduction from Tetra Mater Studios, The Alps, in third. France 5 has three strands per week devoted to documentaries.

Linear & streaming contrast

The best rated docs on linear were not necessarily the most popular on streaming.

Documentaries are usually offered online between one and six months after airing, according to individual deals, but the second most popular doc on France.tv, after Outreau, was another crime series from a France 3 regional station: La Conspiration du Silence (8 x 35 minutes) had 591,000 viewes after it aired only in a regional slot.

France 2 decided to re-run it in the second part of the evening after its streaming performance, while BBC Studio miniseries The Green Planet reached 500,000 videos, while also performing on linear.

For its part, cultural channel Arte, which has two weekly prime-time doc strands, saw five of them reach more than one million viewers on air posting shares double to the channel’s average.

Best rated was another Second World War archive doc, this time on the specific angle of women involvement in Hitler’s rise, with Des Femmes Au Service Du Reich, which reached 1.3 million viewers.

In second was geopolitical doc Qatar Une Dynastie à la Conquête Du Monde wth 1.2 million and in third was history doc L’Incroyable Périple de Magellan, with 1.1 million.

A re-run of Brook Lapping’s Hiroshima: The Real History also reached 1.1 million and French history doc Qui A Tué L’Empire Romain? secured one million.

Magellan, a four part mini-series which uses drawings to recreate this first journey by boat around the world and illustrate historians interviews, was also the channel’s most successful documentary in digital on Arte.tv, posting a hefty 2.3 million video viewed. (Arte’s digital platform is quite developed).

Beside Magellan, streaming again had its own specific successes.

Also reaching 2 million views was three part mini-series USSR: l’Empire Rouge, which rated fairly on air.

Arte.tv’s third most watched documentary with 1.1 million views was Artem & Eva, a one-off that the channel commissioned especially for digital. It also deals with Russia but on a totally different subject (shot before the war in Ukraine), exploring the lifestyle one of young couple doing soft porn to make money.

Also in Arte.tv top five docs with 1 million views was German science mini-series from Spiegel TV, Naked, about biological sexes and assigned gender, along French ancient history one-off Toutankhamon: Le Trésor Redécouvert, a 2019 documentary that has already aired twice.

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