Gallic programming stays close to home

PARIS — Gallic broadcasters will be watching where they spend their euros at Mip.

With the exception of M6, the country’s second private web, which managed to slightly up its ad coin in 2001, overall TV ad revenues fell nearly 6%.

Leading web TF1 will keep its acquisitions spending increase to within 3% this year, while M6 has set a more generous 6% limit.

Meanwhile, with a set of financial woes to deal with, Euro pay TV giant Canal Plus has been placed on a strict diet by parent Vivendi Universal.

What’s clear is that if the French do splash out at this year’s mart, it’s unlikely to be on ready-made imports.

France’s system of quotas and obligations to invest in local production already sees to it that a big share of a French web’s budget gets spent in Gaul. And this year local broadcasters will have to invest an even higher percentage of overall revs at home under new regulations.

Not that they are complaining.

The huge success of the Endemol France-produced “Big Brother” spinoff “Loft Story,” which single-handedly enabled M6 to cruise through last year’s economic downturn, has ensured that reality formats capable of receiving a Gallic twist are today’s hot ticket.

In a sign of French spending priorities, leading web TFI last year sank $300 million into an output deal with Endemol, and even pubcaster France 3 is planning to air a version of Swedish reality format “The Farm.”

While Gallic broadcasters are hungry for more reality, they’re less inclined to pay top dollar for costly U.S. series — whose audience figures simply don’t add up.

A senior exec at M6, the channel that introduced French auds to “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” tells Variety: “Although ‘Ally McBeal’ (is) a great series, it is only scoring average audiences for us while ‘Loft Story’ broke all the records. Paying through the nose for even the best U.S. programming is no longer a foregone conclusion.”

The continued success of homegrown fiction only drives home that point. While long-running primetime dramas like TF1′s “Julie Lescaut” and “Navarro” consistently top the ratings, Gallic webs are also getting ratings with big-name miniseries starring thesps such as Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

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