French TV cuts local programming

Spending on home produced shows falls 6%

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

Spending on French production fell 6% from Euros 518.4 million ($740 million) in the 2006-07 season to Euros 487.3 million ($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 fiction 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,” said NPA chief consultant Estelle Boutiere.

Paybox Canal Plus, however, raised spending on French fictional 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” said 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 presently operate under various government mandates regarding their spending on locally produced fictional 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, told the daily Le Monde on Sept. 11 that he wished to see acquisition and production costs for some genres, especially entertainment and current event shows, cut by around 20% over the next three years.

This week, Storch revealed 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.