BIARRITZ, France — Hit by the economic meltdown, French TV exports dipped 9.7% to $176.2 million last year, according to figures unveiled at the TVFI Biarritz Rendez-Vous on Thursday.

Gallic fiction export figures, which were boosted by a drama renaissance in 2008, took the biggest blow with a 67% drop on pre-sales and a 19.4% dip in sales of finished programs, according to a report from the CNC and its sales promotion arm TV France Intl.

“Networks looked for ways to reduce costs and limit risks by favoring reruns, format and major hits,” explained TVFI CEO Mathieu Bejot.

Overall, pre-sales dipped 12.2% with animated programs repping nearly 60% of the total.

French toons and formats sales climbed 4% and 26.5%, respectively.

Bejot warned, “While the volume of animation sales was up, the cost per hour slipped. That’s because broadcasters’ core channels have moved their animation slots onto their digital terrestrial TV channels, which have smaller acquisition budgets.” Also, new players like IPTV channels and VOD platforms generate smaller revenues than traditional broadcasters.

Western Europe still buys the bulk of French TV exports, accounting for $89.1 million in sales. Once again, Italy was the No. 1 foreign territory, repping $26.5 million in sales, followed by Germany with $13.5 million.

Meanwhile, international co-productions surged 10.4% to $75.5, while French-majority co-pros were up by 4.2% in volume. Western Europe accounting for 69% of all co-productions.

“The rise of French-majority co-productions is a good thing because it means that French producers are able to retain most rights and perpetuate the cultural patrimony,” said Benoit Danard, the CNC’s head of studies and statistics.

Gallic docus strengthened their role on the international market with a handful of blockbusters, said Bertrand Villegas at The Wit. These included World War II event docu “Apocalypse,” Yann Arthus Bertrand’s “Home,” which earned top ratings in Gaul and abroad, and “The Game of Death.” In addition, historical docus have become a Gallic trademark, the analyst said, pointing to “Versailles,” which took a 10.9% aud share in the U.K. on BBC2.

And while 2009 was a tough year, business is gradually picking up.

“Buyers have exhausted their shelve product and they’re now coming back, looking for new shows to fill slots,” said Bejot. “Many French sales agents have told me they’ve done as many deals during this year’s first semester as all of last year.”