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French fiction sales rise dramatically

Gallic drama exports rose 43% last year

Bulwarked by a French fiction renaissance, Gallic TV exports withstood the recession, according to figures unveiled at the TVFI Biarritz Rendez-Vous on Thursday.

Total overseas sales dipped just 1.5% to E150.4 million ($216.6 million) in 2008, per a report from the Centre National de la Cinematographie, which regulates the local film and TV industry, and its sales promotion arm TV France Intl.

One cause of the slippage was a decline in French TV exports to the U.S. and a strong Euro. Another cause, TVFI CEO Mathieu Bejot said at Biarritz, was that key U.S. animation clients such as Disney and the Cartoon Network favored their own productions over third-party buys.

Goosing export figures, French fiction sales and presales rose 43% in 2008 to $61 million, the highest since 2000.

Many factors are at play explaining the French fiction surge, Bejot said. Gallic paybox Canal Plus had been raising the bar on drama, partly in reaction to the high quality of U.S. series.

“There’s also been a diversification in formats with more traditional 90-minute dramas, whether cop shows, costume dramas or comedies, also doing well,” Bejot added.

Animation and documentary sales dropped 26.5% and 5% respectively to $44.2 million and $41.3 million.

In some key territories, such as Spain and Italy, toons and docs are increasingly shunted from broadcasters’ core channels onto digital terrestrial TV channels, where buyers acquire as many shows, but pay less, Bejot said.

All three program types faced longterm challenges of market fragmentation and a resistance to imports, Bejot added.

Western Europe still buys the bulk of French TV exports, accounting for $103.8 million in sales. Italy was the No. 1 foreign territory, repping $20.8 million in sales. Sales to Spain spiked 18% to $16.7 million.

“Some Spanish broadcasters appeared to be buying French programming (last year) as an alternative to U.S. shows, maybe as a result of the Hollywood writers’ strike,” Bejot said.

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