Written by Sébastien Lachaussée
& Elisa Martin Winkel
At the beginning of 2014, the french Film office "CNC" welcomed the success of French tv productions in a statement with the significant title “The French audiovisual production gains the audience in 2013”. Indeed we observe lately a renewal of the French audiovisual landscape where tv series are valorized.
These past two years the International Emmy Awards even awarded two French series: the crime series “Braquo” and the fantastic series “Les revenants” which would have been unthinkable 5 years ago.
We intend here to come over the rise and the renewal of French series: how they fit in the audio-visual landscape, what are the mechanisms and specificities of their production and how they enter the international market.
I)New space for French Series in the audio-visual landscape
In 2010 a report on French fiction highlighted the fragility of French fiction and in fact in the universe of series, American series have now for long time been the major part of the market : in 2013 4 of the 5 best audience for the fiction category were American productions. However for some time and especially under the leadership of channels such as Canal + and Arte, French series are finding their place. It should be noted here two new trends on French series: the rise of short formats and a complete renewal of French series.
1) Great success for short formats
“Un gars, une fille” and “Camera café” revived this type of content and since then, the short formats are part of the greatest success of French production on TV. A very large number of short formats are actually broadcasted on French TV : « Nos chers voisins », « Fait pas ci fait pas ça », « Soda » « Parents : mode d’emploi ». They seduce the audience and every channel wants its own short serie.
These formats reach audience share records : « Soda » is the best audience of W9, « Scenes de menage » has a large success on M6, « Fait pas ci, Fait pas ca » regularly reach 20% of the audience shares on France 2…
Moreover these series benefit from the support of guests, corroborating their popularity rating. This success is not surprising and Yann Goazempis in charge of the humour department at M6 reminds that “In a few years, we developed a real know-how on this field”
We can also note that the French animated short formats are also highly successful. Thus four of the five best audiences for animated series are French. Among them notably « Silex and the city » and « Juliette 7.0 », two series broadcasted by Arte whom the audiences and the critical acclaims reward the channel’s audacity.
Besides short formats series, more classical programs still struggle to find a capital space on screen. Nethertheless we witness an important renewal of French series.
2) Renewal of French series
French series often called "unfashionable” are in the middle of a mutation and the abandon of “Julie Lescaut” seems to spell the end of old-fashioned series. Yann Marchet from Commission Ile de France explains that we actually witness “the emergence of a new generation of French authors inspired by American series’ boldness, connaisseurs of American creations, who claim the desire to reinvent the rules of french series”.
This rise of French series results notably of new production’s policies: series are no longer a by-product and they arouse interest of major producers.
Thus, Canal + is notably developing many series on various themes and surrounds itself with acclaimed writers, directors and performers: among filmmakers Dominik Moll or Olivier Marchal, among actors Nicolas Duvauchelle, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Clothilde Hesme or Helene Fillières,.. The channel's efforts are effective: "Braquo", "Hard", "Mafiosa", "Les revenants" : these are all series of very different kind whose qualities and boldness are regularly reminded by press and whose hearings are excellent.
Nonetheless the other French channels are not completely outdone: Arte, TF1, M6 … French channels reconsider the series as an interesting object that can enable real creative approaches.
In this way Arte dares risky choices by dealing with sensitive subjects such as religion in “Ainsi soient-ils”, artificial intelligence in “Real humans” or ancient history with “Odysseus” with Niels Scheinder and Julie Gayet. The press has welcomed very favourably these series and Arte’s hearings benefited from significant increases in its scale.
It is to note here that the renewal observed towards French series is provided through the channels’ wishes as broadcasters but mainly as producers and by new production approaches.
II) New resources for series’ production
French production series is changing: mechanisms and sector codes change through facilitation of funding through the CNC, but also by new methods on the part of producers.
- Facilitation of funding :
In recent years the CNC has shown some interest in the television series and alongside production aids have been developed some aids for the writing or for the funding of a pilot.
Further to the Chevalier report the support from CNC has been reinforced and Eric Garandeau explained that “these support shall focus on the moment where the risk is the biggest and this is obviously at the time of the development and of the launch in production of new series.”
In fact, since 2010 the CNC extended to audio-visual fiction measures that prior existed for selective support for animation pilots’ funding. CNC’s goal is very clear: the financing of a pilot allows the producers to present to their eventual financial partners a “finished product” and to facilitate the search for a broadcasting channel. This aid is a COSIS investment it is therefore understood that it can’t exceed 40% of the budget or of the French share of financing.
Besides CNC reinforce the measures of the fund for audio-visual innovation when it comes to writing supports, wether rewriting or development. Since 2003 there is even a support for the development of concept ; this new aid intervenes at a very early stage of production and is crucial in terms of series.
These selective supports allow the producer to finance the development of projects and particularly the creation of concept and the writing of scenarios which are decisive stages. As these financial supports may be cumulated they contribute to an important part of the financing of the development of a series.
As examples we can notice that the series « Un village français » and « Les revenants » have both benefited from a support for their development while “Parents mode d’emploi” has benefited from a 30 000 € supports for the shooting of a pilot.
In despite of this positive statement it is to be reminded that the change of mind of the CNC is more related to the audio-visual fictions than specifically to the series. It is why the series could not be realised without boldness methods of production.
- Rise of series and new methods of production
Series is no longer disregarded and French producer understood their value as an interesting audio-visual kind. As a consequence the production’s budget got bigger.
For about ten years Canal + took charge of the series sector in France by surrounding itself with prestigious collaborators but mainly by investing very high production budgets.
Canal +‘s ambition is to “become, as for the cinema, the European reference studio in matter of international vocation series” sums up Olivier Courson, President of StudioCanal’s board. This implication is clearly visible though the numeral data and Fabrice de la Patelieres in charge with the fiction sector at Canal+ underlines that since 2004 the production budget has grown from 6 Million euros to 40 Million in 2013. This amount represents an average of 1.3 to 1.5 million per episode for the prime time series “Braquo” and “Hard” and even 2 Million for the new series “Tunnel”. These budgets are consequent if we consider that the budget of an episode of PBLV star series on Fr3 is not bigger than 85 000 €.
We witness her an approximation of American methods or some of our European neighbours: high budgets, bolder and more conscientious productions.
Canal + impulse arouses numerous reactions and the channels do not hesitate anymore to part of ambitious projects: « Ainsi soient-ils » or « Odysseus » for Arte, « Le transporteur » for M6, « Crossing lines » for TF1…The TV channels finally got really interested in the development of French series.
Further, cinema operators are as well interesting in series. It is the case for EuropaCorp who developed a TV branch and leaded the projects “XIII” and “No limit”. Even Gaumont entered the series sector and notably took part of the production of “Hannibal” with Mads Mikkelsen and of “Hemlock Grove”.
One can also note that the budgets are constantly increasing and we are delighted to see that this increase is partly due to the best pay of scriptwriters whose role is reinforced in the production of new series, again as a mirror of US practices.
Thus "Versailles" has benefited from the talent of the authors of "Mad Men", the Franco-American couple Andrew and Maria Jacquemetton that would have been paid up to € 100,000 per episode before being replaced by Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft, which have already worked together on [MI-5]. In the final budget for the series reached 30 million euros for the first 12 episodes! Although it should be remembered as highlights one of the producers Pascal Breton- that if this series could meet this budget in his first season it "is because it is a co-production"
- The important rise of coproduction
« Crossing Lines », « Borgia », « Tunnel » … they don’t seem to be so but all these series are at least in part French. Coproductions of series are more and more numerous and with good reasons: they allow to raise more important funds and to envisage more ambitious projects.
This reflects notably in the budget of "Tunnel" a series co-produced by Canal + and Sky Atlantic (UK) or of “Borgia” who has reached 32 Million for Season 3. These joint investments allow to compete with foreign products, whose quality often exceeds domestic production. Thomas Anargyros (EuropaCorp Television) has completed the "XIII" series co-produced with the Canadian producer Prodigy Pictures stresses that if the co-production projects are "complex to assemble, (they) provide a huge qualitative leap "compare to usual French productions.
Thus in despite of their complexity these projects multiply and allow the development of more risky series. Since 2013 the festival Series Mania with the support of MEDIA France organizes an European forum for series coproduction who allows to the selected coproducers to present their projects to a panel producers and channels’ representatives.
Since recently some coproduction can even be envisaged with American producers. A first important coproduction between France and USA is a testimony of this new possibility: “Crossing Lines” coproduced by TF1 and Sony Pictures Television Networks.
Furthermore it is to note that this new coproduction strategy seems particularly interesting when it comes to export programs and reflects in a better French series’ presence worldwide.
III) New international possibilities for French series
French series have lately won a real acknowledgement at an international scale and some efficient export strategies are growing.
- A better acknowledgement of French series
Several festivals and events allow to highlight the French audio-visual production, notably the festival “Totally Serialized” organized by the French Institute of London since five years. Its president, Lorraine Sullivan notices that French series « became more inventive » and thus can find their way in the Anglo-Saxon market which is a capital buyer in the field of series.
In the US the event “Direct to series” organized by the Film Commission of Ile-de-France and the French Ambassy broadcasts a choice of French series to the American audience and aims to “promote the renewal of French televisual fiction while fostering exchange in order to give birth to new projects”.
Moreover in the last editions of MIPCOM new French series have not gone unnoticed. Thus in 2013 “Tunnel” was omnipresent and the show was even presented in preview at the festival: a real recognition for a hexagonal series.
Nowadays French series are regularly represented in foreign festival dedicated to the series “Engrenages” nominated in the category Best drama series at the International Emmy Awards 2011 « Ainsi soient-ils » at the Roma Fiction Festival 2012 …. Above all the recognition came with the consecutive awards that we already evoked for « Braquo » and « Les revenants »
This recognition in international festival explains, or comes with, a better presence of French programs worldwide.
- An increasing foreign presence
During the last decade the French programs seem finally to sell abroad and the public seems to plebiscite them. Many French series are now available abroad: UK channel FX has bought "Braquo" and the mini-series "Mesrine" while Sky Art purchased "Hard", a totally different kind of series.
To talk numbers : in Sweden “Real Humans” made a pretty good start by obtaining an average of 18% of audience share for the first season and the series is renewed. Also, in 2011 400 000 spectators were following “Spiral” bought in 2004 by BBC4. It represents an audience twice bigger than the average for the channel prime time. The series is one of the most exported series : it is available in 60 countries included Australia, Japan and USA through Netflix.
In series export the VOD platforms as Netflix or Hulu have a paramount importance, thus Braquo” “Spiral” “Borgia” and soon “Hemlock Grove” are available online. Furthermore Canal+ is developing its own platform to broadcast its own programs online in Canada and Quebec and acknowledge that the “strength (of Canal+) are the major French series”
These past few years French series export enjoy an on-going period : in 2011 France sold for 38,8 M of fictions which is an increase of 39,5 % compare to 2010. Nowadays this trend seems to be confirmed : TV France International and CNC note again a 15 % increase of international sales of series between 2012 and 2013.
However French series often remain handicapped by the language barrier : Anglo-Saxon countries are not really fond of dubbing and sub-titling. It is why the export of French series often comes with shooting in English or the sale of remake rights.
- Reinforced export strategies
Coproductions of series often imply shooting in English language to guarantee the international career of the series. It is the case for « Borgia », « Hannibal », « Tunnel », « Crossing lines »… This strategy allows the series to benefit from sales on numerous English speaking territories who are keen on televisual fictions. To shoot in English and in the American way remains the best strategy for French series event if it is costly.
On the other hand the United States has always been the "land of the remake" in cinematography and of course the growing attraction for Frech series has implemented the system of remake of the series. Thus we can highlight the sale of remake rights of about ten French series among them “Spiral”, « Pigalle la nuit », « Mafiosa », or even « Les hommes de l'ombre », France 2’s mini-series.
Export of the programs is primordial, Marc Nowak, CEO of Zodiak Rights remarks that the international sales of the series is "clearly in the financial engineering program" and that it includes the "rights of the series, when the channels do not want subtitle programs." As an example "Braquo" scenario was sold to the American company Asylum, who will adapt it for the U.S. market.
Finally, we’ll note that the CNC offers a support in promoting and selling audio-visual programs abroad that can support up to 50% of advertising costs or part of the costs of subtitling or dubbing. This aid is largely awarded and is an interesting support for producers or sellers of audio-visual works.
Through our development we see that the renewal of French production methods and of French series itself allows enhanced the presence of French series abroad. If at the moment the sales "low return", they show that France is trying to break into the international market and augur a further development of the sector.
However, even if the series constitute a growing sector in France and have a positive aura to the international, the production volume remains low and seasons remain very short (8/10 against twenty episodes for an American series) which are issues on the international market. Indeed, in such circumstances retain an audience can be difficult and the rise of online distribution makes the competition between series increasingly important.
It only remains to bet that ambitious producers and channels will maintain the quality of French series, boost their production to adapt to the international market and ensure their sustainability in the international market.