It’s still too early to talk of a “marriage,” but in an attempt to establish themselves as a third force in French tv, private webs La Cinq and M6 this month got “engaged,” agreeing to work together in buying and co-producing programming.

“This isn’t an exclusive agreement,” said Nicolas de Tavernost, M6 assistant general manager. “We can still buy or co-produce with other networks. What it means is that if someone proposes a product which doesn’t suit our network we can suggest it to La Cinq.”

The new arrangement also should prevent the nets from competing with each other in an unnecessary bidding war. “If we are chasing a project, then we can warn M6 not to go after it, or they could do the same for us,” was how one La Cinq insider summed up the deal to VARIETY. “Alternatively, one of the networks bids for a series and we can work out some sort of exchange afterwards.”

A third alternative, according to de Tavernost, is that M6 and La Cinq both put money into an acquisition deal and then divide the screening rights.

It appears that the two network management teams have agreed to avoid moving into programming areas that traditionally have been the domain of the other. M6 will continue to target the adolescent market and maintain a musical bias. La Cinq is to carry on with a sizable part of its sked devoted to kids’ programming, national and international news and sports.

In the critical primetime slot, the cooperation agreement is still relatively vague, although a joint statement said all efforts would be made to avoid running “a French police film against a French police film.”

The deal has been welcomed by broadcast regulatory body CSA, which has been encouraging the webs to work together. The CSA said it was happy “that the two networks have understood the necessity of uniting their efforts in order to arrive at a financial equilibrium as quickly as possible.”

The CSA has argued that, given the dominance of TF1, La Cinq and M6 would be better off working together instead of against each other. TF1 captures about 43% of the daily audience and over 50% of ad revenue. Pubcasters Antenne-2 and FR3 pick up 33% of the audience, while La Cinq and M6 combined grab 18%.

Shortly after the duo announced the deal, the CSA granted the webs use of 20 new broadcast frequencies, which bring with them 1.5 million potential new viewers. About 75% of the national tv audience can pick up a decent signal from La Cinq, while the figure for M6 is nearer 65%.

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