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Territory Reports: France

Imports fashion wider interest

PARIS — Rival Gallic broadcasters will have daggers drawn at the L.A. Screenings, as terrestrial webs and paybox Canal Plus attempt to secure the hottest series coming out of America.

With “CSI” in its various guises matching the best performances of local fare on TF1 (while costing a lot less), and “Prison Break” single-handedly turning second commercial web M6 into a primetime player, the importance of nabbing the best shows is plain to see.

Canal Plus now acknowledges that after movies and sports — its two central programming pillars — imported series are the third reason people subscribe to the paybox. “Desperate Housewives” and “24” have had a lot to do with that — and Canal Plus is hoping its clients will be equally enthusiastic about “Dexter,” which began airing May 10, and the American version of “The Office,” which bows June 3. Paybox also recently acquired the buzz Canadian show “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”

Ahead of the Gallic scramble in L.A., Sandra Ouaiss, head of Canal Plus acquisitions, is keeping her cards close to the vest.

“There are a few projects I’m interested in, but like last year, there seems to be a lot of copying of previously successful concepts,” Ouaiss says. 

The strategy is different for France’s major terrestrial broadcasters, all of whom want shows that will appeal to a mass audience.  

At the May Screenings this time around, the balance of power has shifted, with leading commercial web TF1 in an even stronger position to call the shots. For the first time, the web’s output deal with Warner Bros. kicks in, giving it the pick of that studio’s new fare, as well as Disney’s and Universal’s.

Meanwhile pubcaster France Televisions, WB’s former French partner, has not struck a new deal with a major studio and will have to shop around.

Acquisitions topper Cecile Negrier, plays down the pubcaster’s loss, pointing out it still has “Without a Trace,” “Cold Case” and “ER.”

“The volume of U.S. production is so high, we are not worried about being able to find series that will interest us,” she says. “Furthermore as France’s public broadcaster, it isn’t our job to program lots of imported shows.”

M6, though, is a heavy consumer of U.S. fare and will look beyond its deals with Paramount and Fox to secure shows that are likely to prove winners with Gallic auds.

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