French-Lingo Product Sizzles

French Canada’s top TV shows regularly draw twice as many viewers as the most popular shows in English Canada, despite the fact that Quebec has only a quarter of the country’s population.

Quebec’s hottest series right now, a bizarre sitcom titled “La Petite Vie,” topped the 4 million mark on pubcaster Radio-Canada, an astonishing figure for a province of 7 million residents.

Still, indie producers complain it’s increasingly hard to finance high-end fare and the local nature of the shows makes them a tough sell on the international market.

In the past few years, the TV scene for French-lingo broadcasters in Montreal has become increasingly crowded, with the arrival of the Quatre Saisons network and a host of specialty cable channels, including the 24-hour all-news outlet le Reseau de l’lnformation and docu service Canal D.

“The competition in this very small market is ferocious,” says Michele Fortin, vice president of Radio-Canada, CBC’s French-language TV network “But it’s one of the most creative TV scenes in the world in terms of the variety and creativity. It’s one of the most lively.”

But, according to Francois Champagne, head of Montreal-based TV production company SDA, Quebec broadcasters don’t pay enough for the hit shows like SDA’s “Scoop.”

“These shows that garner more than 2 million viewers allow the broadcasters to make significant profits,” says Champagne. “Independent producers making big-budget series still have to undertake loads of risks.”

Fortin at Radio-Canada says the profits from a series such as “Scoop” are used to help fund money-losing areas like children’s and news programming. Radio-Canada also has to contend with the massive budget cuts inflicted on it by the federal government over the past few years. The predatory competition among broadcasters here helped spark one of the largest deals in Quebec TV history this fall, with CFCF Inc. and Groupe Videotron, both of Montreal, swapping assets.

The agreement announced Nov. 18 gives Videotron control of CFCF’s cable company, CF Cable TV, while CFCF takes over the Videotron-owned TV network Tele-Metropole, the province’s leading private broadcaster. CFCF already owns the Quatre Saisons network and the English-lingo outlet, CFCF-12, and the transaction, subject to regulatory approval, makes the Montreal company the dominant player.

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