Television buyers searching for fresh fiction formats need look no further than France, which is emerging as the hot source for licensed fare.
Sales of Gallic product have recently taken a higher profile — following the earlier lead of such territories as Israel and Scandinavia — with France adding sizzle to a burgeoning marketplace with its formats.
Some credit the country’s robust film business for the upsurge. “France has one of the world’s most vibrant and innovative post-war cinema cultures, and it seems that in the last 10 years or so, the quality is breaking through their television output,” says Lucy Criddle, acquisitions manager for Sky Arts, which recently picked up two edgy Canal Plus shows, 1871-set drama skein “Maison Close” and contempo dramedy series “Hard.”
Many of the highest-profile recent export deals have been English-language remake rights of Canal Plus fiction formats targeting U.K. and North American networks: Steven Bawol’s Helion Pictures acquired the format of “Mafiosa” and “Pigalle, la nuit” with “Dexter” showrunner James Manos Jr. tapped to pen the pilot ; “The Kennedys” producer Asylum Entertainment picked up makeover rights to “Braquo”; and BBC Worldwide Productions acquired “Spiral’s” U.S. remake rights with Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions on board to develop. Endemol Studios also purchased remake rights to French pubcaster’s France 2’s “Les hommes de l’ombre.”
With its slate of ambitious, often-daring and well-financed shows, Canal Plus has been powering this trend, increasing its investment in fiction by over 90% to over € 50 million ($63 million) in 2011.
“In the last five or six years, Canal Plus has really stepped into the original fiction arena in a way that does sort of recall HBO and Showtime in the U.S.,” says Bawol, “and they’ve managed to develop a lot of series that are world-class in terms of the look, feel and writing of the shows.”
Emmanuelle Bouilhaguet, sales topper at Europe Images Intl., points out the climb in format sales is a global trend. “For the past 18 months or so, discussions over fiction formats have become more concrete, both for acquisitions and sales: there is an excitement over Spanish, Latin American and French formats.”
Europe Images Intl. has sold the format of Canal Plus’ short comedic series “Bref” to Spain’s Shine, Canada’s TV1, and the company is in advanced negotiations to sell the option to an Italian producer. “Bref,” which chronicles the life of an ordinary 30-year-old man, has been very popular in Gaul, attracting a large online following.
Format deals may not be as financially attractive as pacts for ready-made product, but they remain substantial: producers who option a format for a six-month period pay the seller a minimum guarantee that can vary from about $12,000 to $36,000; if the format is acquired by a network, the producer gives the seller a percentage averaging 10% of the production budget.
From the sellers’ standpoint, format sales serve two purposes : “They give select long-running series a second window of export opportunities, and/or allow local fiction to access foreign territories traditionally closed off to Gallic TV drama, such as the U.S. and the U.K.,” says Mathieu Bejot, exec director of TV France Intl., the Gallic audiovisual promotion org that hosts the annual Rendez-Vous showcase in Biarritz.
“When you go to broadcast partners and you show them a program, they can see what the show is, they can see how it works,” Bawol says. However, when “you come in with just a script, there’s nothing to go on except maybe the author’s background, so it takes a leap of faith.”
Bawol adds that another reason behind the popularity of format sales is what many consider the persistent “bias against non-English language programming.”
That said, the export of ready-made Gallic skeins is also on the rise, with some recent upscale Canal Plus series travelling to top international territories such as the U.K. and the U.S.
“Spiral,” for instance, was just acquired by Netflix in the U.S., marking the VOD platform’s first pickup of a foreign-language TV drama.
“There is much more of an appetite, across many territories, for foreign language drama,” says Sky Arts’ Criddle.
And although 2011 export figures haven’t been announced, Bejot says, “fiction sales (including ready-made and format deals) are up, both in terms of volume and value.”
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