French TV Giants Canal Plus, Lagardere Boost Their Presence Across Africa

Canal Plus and Lagardere Entertainment are among the French media conglomerates stepping up their presence across Africa, the continent that boasts the fastest-growing French-speaking population in the world.

More than 100 million people in the region speak the language, with that number projected to rise to as many as 600 million by 2050. “There’s more development to be expected for the French media (in Africa) than in France, where the market is pretty saturated,” says Francois Deplanck, of Canal Plus Overseas.

The Canal Plus Group has been active in Africa for two decades, and is the leading pay-TV platform among French-speaking countries on the continent — including Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco, nations on which economists are particularly bullish. In October 2014, as part of a more aggressive push into the region, it launched A+, a premium pan-African entertainment channel based in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, which screens local content from 17 countries across the continent. Deplanck calls the channel a showcase of African productions. The Canal Plus Group now has 1.7 million subscribers in the region, up from 700,000 just two years ago. And it expects to hit the 2 million mark by year’s end.

French giant Lagardere also has upped its game in Africa, acquiring a majority stake earlier this year in Intl. Distribution of Films and Fiction From Africa — known by its French acronym, Diffa. The distrib has rights to approximately 650 hours of content from Africa and the African diaspora.

In a statement announcing the deal in May, Takis Candilis, president of Lagardere, said the company was responding to market demands. “Lagardere Entertainment’s positioning in Africa coincides with the growing need for content on the continent,” he said. At the same time, the company also unveiled the African version of its French brand Gulli, which is aimed at the young children’s market with a mix of toon series and other kid-friendly programming. It airs on Canal Plus on the continent.

In stepping up its production in the region, Lagardere is opening two offices in Africa: one in Abidjan, the other in Johannesburg, and it also has bought a majority stake in the Dakar, Senegal-based production company Keewu. As a sign of its commitment, it is planning to open the Lagardere Studio Academy to train African media professionals.

“We don’t want to take formats and come here,” Candilis says. The strategy is to “go (into) countries and find talent, and build real African content.”

With a robust presence across the predominantly Francophone markets of North and West Africa, France has started to set its sights on Anglophone regions
on the continent as well.

This year, a partnership between the French Embassy and the Kenya Film Commission saw the launch of the inaugural Kalasha Intl. Film & TV Festival & Market, a two-day event that brought together East African producers, broadcasters, distributors and government bodies with their counterparts from the rest of the world.

“One of our missions (in) support of our companies is to tap (into) these English-speaking countries,” says Juliette Vivier, the regional audiovisual attache for East Africa at the French Embassy
in Kenya. Among those in attendance at Kalasha were Canal Plus Overseas and Diffa.

The boost in French investment for local content in the region is a boon to African producers and broadcasters looking for a greater presence on the global stage, and it reverses what has long been the one-way flow of foreign programming coming into Africa.

As a sign of the changing times, Deplanck notes that Canal Plus will be bringing A+ to France in February. “There isn’t much African content on (French) TV stations,” he says. “(This is) a channel that travels, and which showcases to our subscribers … the different faces of Africa.”

For the many African media stakeholders who have long been marginalized on the fringes of the global TV industry, such a move underscores the potential of exporting content to more developed markets.

Says A+ exec Damiano Malchiodi, “It’s the beginning of a great adventure of African production.”

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