French TV showcase attracts buyers from across Spain

MADRID — Only two countries in the world export their TV shows with sufficient means, absolute conviction and enviable success: the U.S. and France.

Running June 1-2 in Madrid at the city’s swish uptown Miguel Angel Hotel, whose shaded back garden encouraged relaxed business meetings, the Ibero Showcase 2006 showed the cogs of organizer TV France International — France’s Unifrance for TV — turning with well-greased efficiency. The event also confirmed some gems in France’s TV export arsenal, and demonstrated what kind of business one European TV power can expect from a neighbor.

The timing is not casual. One sign of an international TV market’s growth is that TV France Intl. will get round pretty sharply to organizing a showcase there. It was in Chengdu, China last November, Dubai in February, Russia last month, and they are eying a Rio de Janeiro Latin American mart for 2007.

The last Spanish showcase took place in 2003. But Spain is now on an acquisitions roll. Last year saw the launch in Spain of nine DTT channels and two aggressive analog broadcasters — Cuatro and La Sexta — as well as the merger of main cable players ONO and Auna. Cuatro and Sexta sent seven and five buyers/programmers a piece.

The Ibero Showcase’s critical mass of sellers attracted a critical mass of buyers. Some 57 Spanish acquisition execs and seven buyers flew over from Portugal.

That’s crucial in a highly decentral-ized country such as Spain where regional broadcasters frequently buy French shows to peck up ratings and satisfy their public service mandate. Many regional pubcasters sent reps to Madrid, eliminating the need for French sellers to region-hop around all four corners of Spain.

Per France TV Intl., Spain repped 10% of French TV sales to Western Europe in 2004, for a total value of Euros 7 million ($10.2 million).

During the 2004-05, 37 French programs broadcast on five national channels and six regional channels, gleaning north of 30 million viewers. Only three, all films — the two “Asterix and Obelix” movies and “The Crimson Rivers” — bettered averages in primetime of major national networks. (Another program, “Camera Cafe,” has become this season’s sensation in Spain, grabbing 23%-29% shares in Telecinco primetime.)

Selectively skedded, however, a raft of French programming beats channel averages in off-primetime slots on national broadcasters, and at sundry times on regional pubcasters, boutique analog channels and niche pay TV services.

“There are more and more sales options in Spain, though the prices aren’t up to past levels,” said Tony Albert, a sales executive at Spanish TV toon producer/distributor Motion Pictures.

Depending on counterprogramming, French animation — “Titeuf,” “Martin Mystery,” “Delta State” and “Totally Spies” — can excel in Spain. Slotted Saturday and Sunday mornings on regional pubcaster TeleMadrid, “Totally Spies” hit 38.1% among 4-12s over 2004-05.

“French animation is of an exceptional quality for Europe. The French attempts to innovate and offer an alternative to the Japanese industry,” said Telemadrid head of acquisitions Sandra Gayarre.

Sold by France’s Taffy Ent., the Moonscoop-produced toon skein “The Fantastic Four” looked on track at the Showcase to close for Spain.

Taffy also renewed a further season of toon action comedy “Code Lyoko” with new regional broadcasters, in-cluding Telemadrid, and reupped on “Titeuf” with Nickleodeon.

With more niche channels around, “sales opportunities are now opening up for French drama in Spain,” said TV France Intl. executive director Mathieu Bejot.

Cuatro picked up “Lea Parker,” a sexy cop show, from Mip. Several broadcasters were circling procedural thriller “Spiral,” a BBC4 pickup in the U.K., at the Ibero Showcase.

Repping much of the newer shows at the Showcase, given their faster production turnaround, docus focused much of the buyers attention in Madrid.

Arte France’s “Maradona, el pibe de oro” looked a certain sell, reflecting World Cup fever.

If promo reels and buzz were anything to go by, there were other standouts:

Angelique Kidjo performing a set, singing in modulating tones of jaw-dropping force, in “Africa Live — The Roll Back Malaria Concert,” sold by Ideale Audience Intl.; the cruelty of children at school, caught by Doc & Co’s “Kindergarten;” System TV’s “Irak: Mum’s at War,” about mother soldiers in Irak; and the remarkable schlurpy sounds on the soundtrack of the hyper-realist “War and Peace in the Kitchen Garden,” an acutely-eared, ground-level record of the animals, plants and insects in a Brittany land-plot.

France Televisions Distributions was finalizing a deal with RTVE on “War and Peace” at the Showcase.

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