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M6 not afraid to spend coin

Territory report: France

PARIS — In the fierce commercial battle between TF1, France’s leading web, and its smaller rival M6, M6 topper Nicolas de Tavernost upped the ante as he unveiled the channel’s fall schedule last month.

“We’re going to spend money,” de Tavernost declared bullishly. “This is part of the patient construction of a big network.”

The message was clear: Its outstanding ratings with “Loft Story,” France’s first reality show two years ago, have given M6 big ideas, and the web is no longer content to play second fiddle to top-rated player TF1.

Never mind that TF1’s market share in the first half of 2003 was a whopping 31%; while M6’s stood at 13% .

“We’ll refuse nothing because we’ve seen that investments in programming, when judiciously made, are a source of growth,” de Tavernost says.

M6 has already put its money where its mouth is.

By the end of this year, it will have seen the biggest hike in spending on programming, some 6.5%. By comparison TF1’s programming budget was trimmed by 3%.

So what are the Gallic rivals going to blow their money on?

Reality and gameshows are still big in France and will continue to drive spending on imports, while home-grown fiction is the other priority.

Over the next season, TF1 will air “Star Academy,” “Temptation Island,” “Fear Factor” and its survivor spinoff “The Koh Lanta Adventurers.”

TF1 broadcasting chief Etienne Mougeotte said recently that the genre had “found its place” on the station.

The pressure is on Endemol, with which TF1 has a costly first-look deal, to keep coming up with shiny new programs that will help the web maintain its huge lead on the competition.

Meanwhile, M6, has created its own reality production outfit, W9, which produced a french version of “The Bachelor,” aired this summer.

This season it will launch a Gallic version of the U.K. Channel 4’s “Wife Swap” and “I’ve Decided to Be Beautiful,” a new show following participants as they undergo facelifts and other cosmetic surgery, among other reality variants.

On the fiction front both TF1 and M6 are scrambling to produce miniseries that will please local auds, an area in which TF1 has a significant head start.

TF1 has recently created its own production unit, bringing together companies it owns or holds a stake in. The unit’s prexy is Takis Candilis, who is also TF1’s director of fiction.

“Julie Lescaut” and “Navarro,” both long-running series on TF1 which continue to top the ratings charts, are still the benchmarks as creative types struggle to invent TV heros that will keep audiences coming back.

TF1 is also spending on miniseries such as the GTV produced “The Dominici Affair,” starring Michel Serrault and based on a true unsolved murder mystery set in the French countryside.

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