French TV loads up on imports

Production spending drops 6% from 2007 to 2008

PARIS French webs are airing fewer local productions, according to a study by research group NPA Conseil.

Spending on French production fell 6% from E518.4 million ($740 million) in the 2006-07 season to $695.4 million in 2007-08.

The four main webs — private nets TF1 and M6, and pubcasters France 2 and France 3 — aired 178 French scripted series during primetime in the 2006-07 season but just 140 in 2007-08.

Total foreign drama series on the same networks during primetime rose from 226 to 232, with only M6 showing less non-French content.

“What we found most interesting was the decline in (French-produced) programs in primetime — especially in the earlier part of the evenings — and the big rise in mainly American dramas,” says NPA chief consultant Estelle Boutiere.

Paybox Canal Plus, however, raised spending on French scripted product by 30% over the same period, from $47.1 million to nearly $61.4 million.

The cutbacks for local content on the major networks are “probably in line with most European countries,” says Tim Westcott, senior analyst at U.K.-based media research group Screen Digest.

Westcott also points out that in France, as in most European markets, “locally originated content usually pulls in the biggest audiences, so it would not necessarily be a wise commercial move to cut back too far on local dramas.”

Both public and private Gallic nets operate under various government mandates regarding their spending on locally produced scripted series and made-for-TV films.

However, some longstanding restrictions look certain to be relaxed with comprehensive state reforms of the broadcasting industry gathering momentum.

Parliamentary debates on a series of measures are set for late September and early October.

Laurent Storch, head of programming at France’s biggest private net, TF1, recently told daily Le Monde he wished to see acquisition and production costs for some genres, especially entertainment and current events shows, cut by roughly 20% over the next three years.

Last week, Storch said in an interview with tabloid VSD that some French drama series would be dropped by the chain in the near future, but that specific decisions had not yet been made.

TF1 was the only one of the four nets surveyed to see a rise in French drama production costs last season.