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TV bandwidth for films narrows, raising concerns

France

French film folk went into shock earlier this fall when TF1, France’s leading commercial web, suddenly pulled the plug on its traditional Sunday night movie and replaced it with hit U.S. series “CSI” — set to air in the slot through 2006.

Gallic pic biz remains hugely reliant on TV coin, and broadcasting topper Etienne Mougeotte’s move was seen as a bad omen by distribs, who need TV sales to recoup some of their acquisition costs, as well as by French producers, for whom TV coin is a vital financing source.

Industry orgs went to parliament to ask the government to force broadcasters to air films. Under existing broadcasting regs, they are only obliged to buy them — airing them is optional.

Playing down the brouhaha, Mougeotte has said TF1 will definitely program films again before the holiday season. But his move has opened a Pandora’s box. The French culture minister has ordered reps on both sides to reconsider the place of movies on French TV.

“It is too soon to know how things are going to evolve, but what TF1 has done is not very encouraging, especially for catalog sales,” says Jean-Philippe Tirel, theatrical distribution topper at Wild Bunch.

Another, no less sizable concern right now is the ongoing merger of France’s two satellite platforms, Canalsat and TPS.

Canal Plus Group topper Bertrand Meheut has tried to reassure industryites that the merger, due to happen before the end of the year, won’t be the death of half of France’s existing film channels.

“After the merger, Canal Plus will grow, not shrink, and we won’t expand by offering consumers less than they had before,” Meheut said recently. But pic bizzers are skeptical.

Homevideo, another source of revenue vital to distribs, also is waning in Gaul. In the first half of 2006, homevid revenues were down 13% compared to last year.

However, the bright spot –and by no means a negligible one — is France’s booming theatrical biz, expected to end the year up 10%.

Gallic fare is driving business. “Friends Forever,” a third episode in the cult “Les Bronzes” franchise, notched up more than 10 million ticket sales; another holiday-themed laffer, “Camping,” garnered another 5 million.

Tellingly, Gaumont Columbia is France’s top distrib so far this year — not because of “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Legend of Zorro,” Columbia’s best performers — but due to the French major’s quartet of homegrown hits: Francis Veber’s “The Valet,” James Bond-style spoof “OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Thieves,” Valerie Lemercier’s “Palais Royal” and “Je vous trouve tres beau.”

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