French TV tunes in good news on sales

Gallic program sales dropped only 2.1% in 2001

ST. TROPEZ — Sales of French TV shows abroad remained stable in 2001 but international co-productions and pre-sales increased by double digits, according to a report released Tuesday at the annual French TV screenings here.

Despite the downward economic cycle, slowdown in global trade, a drop in ad revenues, the changing European pay TV landscape and the repercussions of Sept. 11, Gallic program sales dropped only 2.1% in 2001, bringing in n126.7 million ($123.5 million) compared to $126 million in 2000.

Animated shows topped the list of exports for the sixth straight year, banking $55 million and garnering 44.6% of foreign sales. Cartoon sales doubled in North America to 12% of all French animation sold.

Documentary sales remained stable, totaling $27.5 million.

Fiction remained hard to sell, according to Olivier Sapaut, CEO of TF1 Intl., due to its traditional 90-minute format. But with many of the new big-budget miniseries — such as TF1’s “Dangerous Liaisons” and France 2’s “Napoleon” — now geared for multiple 52-minute timeslots, Sapaut said the trend could reverse.

Fiction sales also took a hit due to increases in local fiction production elsewhere.

“There are fewer primetime slots to fill with prestige fiction shows,” noted Mathieu Bejot, managing director of TV France Intl., the state-funded organization that promotes program exports and organizes the screenings. This is especially true in Italy, a significant market for France, where homegrown fiction production doubled in 2001.

Sales to Western Europe continue to account for two-thirds of Gallic program sales, with Germany remaining France’s most important market. According to Bejot, “Sales to Asia were buoyant and increased significantly.” For the first time ever, Indonesian buyers copped French shows in 2001.

Though sales flatlined, co-productions and presales were up 21.8% to $203 million, accentuating how difficult it is to mount fully French financed productions.

Investment from Western European countries accounted for half the total. North American co-productions and presales, primarily with francophone Canadian partners, represented 44.2% of the pie. Investment from the U.K. slipped, but rose significantly from Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

TVFI enticed 160 buyers from 110 television stations to the screenings, which kicked off Monday and will wrap on Friday, to meet 51 French TV production companies and screen 700 programs.

U.S. buyers include Discovery and WNET. U.K. companies include first-time participant Channel 4 and its Welsh subsidiary S4C. Other participants have trekked from as far as Hong Kong, India, Brazil and Qatar, the base of screenings habitué Al Jazeera Satellite Channel.