How Rendez-Vous in Biarritz marked a time of transition for France

Unifrance Le Rendez-Vous (© P.Tohier)

Rendez-Vous in Biarritz attracted hundreds of European buyers to the French coast last week for an event that felt like it was marking a time of transition for the industry, writes Marie-Agnès Bruneau.

Rendez-Vous wrapped its 29th edition in Biarritz on Friday, with the export event welcoming around 200 French programme buyers mostly from Europe to screenings in a dedicated space (despite the stunning weather outside), as well as meetings with distributors in busy little blue booths, and lunch and dinners around new show launches.

In many aspects, it is transition times.

Gilles Pélisson

Transition for the organisation: Unifrance and TVFrance International greenlit their merger two years ago and, under the management of Daniela Elstner, completed the move this year with a new, single, president appointed in July – former TF1 CEO Gilles Pélisson, “on a benevolent basis,” as he liked to stress.

He took over from Unifrance president Serge Toubiana, a former film critic and Cinematheque Française director, and former International TV distributor Hervé Michel. Sarah Hemar continues to run the TV side.

There was also transition in terms of sales activity, said Unifrance and CNC execs when introducing the annual export figures. Last year’s numbers include the period when the industry was moving out of Covid, while on the international front there have been structural changes such as the Warner Bros. Discovery merger and streaming platforms revising strategy.

This results in slower decision making processes and a more ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, while global deals seem to get increasingly less global. “What is going to be the streamers’ [global] strategy and what will be the traditional players’ strategy in response?” sumps up a scripted distributor.

French scripted fare fizzes

French drama had its moment last year, increasing sales thanks to a few major global platforms deals, while two prestigious scripted remakes were greenlit in the US (although they are paused with the strikes, as is everything else right now).

At Newen, TF1’s hit procedural HIP (High Intellectual Potential) is lined-up for US network ABC, while Federation Studios and Canal+ series The Bureau is in the works for Showtime with George Clooney attached as a producer, a deal which also saw worldwide rights to the French spy series selling to Paramount+ (except in Canal+ territories).

Le bureau and HIP’s US deals remain exceptional,” tempers Federation’s international sales exec Guillaume Pommier. “The US is not yet a big regular French drama buyer, beside some specialised players such as MHz Choice.”

Pommier adds that there has been a slight slow-down in global platforms deals but says that on the other hand, “we feel that the local markets are picking up, either linear players or local SVoDs”. Federation, which recently signed more sales to Bardot, was showcasing M6 procedural Vigilantes and 13eme Rue’s crime thriller series, Follow.

MHz Choice just picked-up new France Télévisions series All Of This I Will Give to You, reports distributor Film and Pictures’ Marie-Laure Hebrard, who was showcasing the drama in Biarrtz, with the main actors and the 22-countries-selling-Spanish novel writer Dolores Redondo attending.

The show is a crime series about a man investigating his husband’s death within an unfriendly family. The US international mystery drama streamer is a regular buyer, she says, running for instance the Murder In France 3 TV movies ongoing anthology series.

Searching for Geniale Detective

Hebrard also reports a demand for light crime drama as “after Covid, there is a will for escapism,” she says, echoing some of the opinions of scripted buyers attending Biarritz, who are looking for light crime drama to the like of HIP. Now in its third season, the series led by a colourful character played by Audrey Fleurot was not only a success in France but also enjoyed good ratings abroad, including in primetime in Italy on Rai Uno where it runs as Morgan Detective Geniale.

HIP (High Intellectual Potential)

HIP brings us back to French drama fundamentals,” says Mediawan’s Ulrich Lagriffoul, deputy director of international sales for scripted, and also a long time French drama specialist who highlights that France has a long tradition in female-led light procedural drama, for which demand has come back.

“Internationally, it was (Newen show) Candice Renoir that really opened the way,” he recalls, adding that there is “overall, higher demand” for procedurals”, with regular sales for ongoing returning series such as Tandem and Mismatch.

Established IPs are also increasingly important in today’s hyper-competitive market, Lagriffoul adds, with the group set to promote its international drama Zorro at MIPCOM, produced by Secuoya in Spain.

The Mediawan exec also reports interest in edgier and more off-the-beaten-track dramas such as author-driven and innovative series from Arte, having brought to Biarritz the trailer for Machine, a brand new kung-fu female-led action series from the cultural channel.

For its part, France Télévisions has been developing YA series for its digital platform, with Chair Tendre (aka About Sasha) among last year’s hits, and it is also taking more risks on the platform. France TV distribution brought to Biarritz the third season of multi-language comedy Parliament, a coproduction with Germany, with creator and main actors attending.

Factual flair paying off

In documentaries too, diversification of styles and commissioning outlets is paying off. Among the bestsellers last year was Pompeii, produced for DTT channel RMC Découverte “whose more commercial style attracts” interest, says Sandrine Frantz of indie distributor Lukarn. The doc sold to broadcasters including Australia’s SBS, AMC Spain and Rai.

Kwanza’s Benjamin Ternynck agrees with Frantz’s commercial sentiments. The company brought Inside D-Day: The Untold Story, produced by RMC Production, to Biarritz, with the show unveiling private archives from the filmakers.

Unseen private archives together with interviews were central in the documentary miniseries StudioCanal was promoting in Biarritz, Lagerfeld Ambitions. A French ‘savoir-faire’ feel to biographies, as well as in pop culture, has developed, notes Audrey Kamga, international sales director of Arte Distribution, which recently sold a Jody Foster profile and a Hitchcock show to ten PBS stations in syndication.

Arte was presenting a new Ken Loach biography in Biarritz, alongside an upcoming third party animation-driven doc for rival pubcaster France TV, Joan of Arc Case.

The trend to female-driven shows can be felt In documentaries too, reports Isabelle Graziadey, executive director of international co-productions, sales & acquisitions at Terranoa, which received a warm welcome with its new doc A Woman On Kabul, a 40-year diary of a woman fighting for emancipation of women.

Another best-selling doc of last year was Lucky You’s Science And Technology, which travelled throughout Europe, Japan and Australia. “New cutting technologies are bringing new findings and that leads to new high-tech documentaries,” says CEO Roberto Salvestrin.

Documentaries had a good year in terms of sales following the pandemic and, as opposed to scripted, in pre-sales too, although distributors note that there is a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, perhaps because of ongoing Covid delays.

Adding up animated efforts

For animation’s part, sales were slightly down with pre-sales even more so. One reason is that there was less volume produced last year and distributors confirmed buyers pausing activity, “following international consolidation moves such as the Warner-Discovery merger, and the global streamer strategies’ slow-down, with market relying more on public channels,” says Lionel Marty, head of APC Kids.

Jade Armor

The company had recently signed a raft of sales to TeamTo show Jade Armor, which did well on France Télévisions and Super RTL and was also produced for Warner (Cartoon network). APC also took the British animation adapted from children book Isadora Moon to Biarritz, having stepped up distribution.

Other animation producers/distributors also point out that while sometimes animation costs the same as scripted, it does not sell for the same amounts. Streamer expansion can also sometimes mean channels that were once partners are no longer, one exec quoting the disappearance of Disney Channel in Italy, despite it being previously quite active.

As for markets challenges, Super RTL, a faithful Rendez-Vous attendant for many years, and a coproduction partner and buyer for French animation, says that as far as they are concerned, it is not so much the streamers’ competition but the advertising market that is a concern.

Transitions including location?

One recurrent question in Biarritz among buyers was “are you aware that the event may change location?”

“Nothing is decided, but we are asking ourselves the question,” answers Sarah Hemar, who looks after TV for the event. “Even if in the end it remains in Biarritz, it’s healthy to once in a while put everything on the table.”

Organised originally in its first two years as a cruise, the TVFrance International screenings event was set in Saint-Tropez for many years, before moving to Biarritz in 2007. Among other towns cited are Le Havre and La Baule, but no move has been yet greenlit. There is another Rendez-Vous event being prepared in January, which originally focused on movies. But both events should remain.

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