State broadcasters face spot-free primetime

PARIS — While last year traditional nets had to find ways to counter the fragmentation of audiences caused by expanding new media, this year, it’s pending reform that’s scaring advertisers away. The industry revamp — conceived by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and scheduled to be submitted in mid-October to the council of ministers — will eliminate TV commercials every evening after 8:30 on France Televisions’ public-sector channels: France 2, 3, 4 and 5. The reform is set to start in Jan. 2009.

French execs have got their work cut out for them. “It’s difficult for us to compete with big-budget shows like CSI,” says Emmanuelle Bouilhaguet, managing director of producer/distrib Marathon Intl. “Whereas back in 2005, a French series like ‘Dolmen’ could attract more than 12 million viewers, nowadays, the only French program that can compete with ratings like those of ‘CSI’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’ is a soccer game.”

Still in top position, TF1 scores a record average of 7 million of viewers with U.S. procedurals like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” in primetime. But like other networks, TF1’s overall revenues have decreased by 3% during the first half of this year. And it now targets younger auds that have been seduced by rival TNT.

The TF1 group has invested E30 million ($44.3 million)to launch “Second Chance,” a daily soap that chronicles the experience of a thirtysomething single mom who tries to make it in an ad agency after being abandoned by her husband.

Meanwhile, France 2 will air the second season of “Clara Sheller,” a kind of Gallic “Sex and the City” that hasn’t been seen since 2006.

Relationship dramedies set in the French capital will be part of the 2009 lineup, including Marathon-produced “Paris Stories,” in the same vein as “Friends,” and “Paris 16,” a series reminiscent of “The OC” produced by French shingle Calt.

But even though U.S. shows rule Gaul’s ratings, “European buyers, and particularly Italy’s Mediaset, are still fond of French content,” Bouilhaguet says.

Marathon’s big-budget miniseries thriller “Bloody Mountains,” was the most-watched program during Gaul’s intl. TV Rendez-Vous market. Broadcaster is France 3.

Equipped with larger budgets than other networks, “Canal Plus is focusing on producing international content to attract American talent and producers,” says the company’s CEO, Rodolphe Belmer. Its upcoming two-part film, “XIII,” starring Stephen Dorf and Val Kilmer, has been sold in 52 countries, including NBC in the U.S.

TOP 3

“CSI” (TF1)

“Criminal Minds” (TF1)

“Plus Belle La Vie” (France 3)

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