Guillaume Jouhet: International Exec You Should Know

French telco pay channel OCS targets U.S. fare, sets goals on original series

Armed with HBO skeins and a plan to develop original shows, Orange Cinema Series, the Gallic premium TV group owned by telco giant Orange, is ready to do battle for viewers with market leader Canal Plus.

Under the leadership of managing director Guillaume Jouhet, the company beat out Canal Plus in January, renewing its output deal with HBO for first-window rights to the U.S. cabler’s drama skeins, including “Game of Thrones.” And on Oct. 10, it bowed OCS Generation HBO, which airs HBO series 24 hours after their first U.S. broadcast; and OCS Go, an on-demand service dedicated to HBO content in English (with subtitles).

OCS’ plan aims at forging a strong enough premium brand to compete with such digital players as Netflix and Amazon, which are due to arrive in Gaul within the next couple years.

Since the beginning of the year, Orange Cinema Series has increased its subscription numbers from 400,000 to 1.6 million; Canal Plus has 5.5 million across its bouquet of channels.

In addition, OCS is diving into original French fiction, developing tightly budgeted half-hour comedy formats.

“We’re looking to make half-hour comedies and dramedies in the spirit of HBO’s ‘How to Make It in America’ or ‘Hung,’ ” says Jouhet. “We’re not interested in making crime series with €1 million episodes — we don’t have the budget, and we want to make shows that are different than what’s already in the French market.”

Launched in 2008, OCS struggled in the marketplace, and spent a lot of money on acquiring content, aiming to compete with Canal Plus, which, as the main backer of French cinema, benefited from strong ties within the local production community.

But in 2011, incoming Orange CEO Stephane Richard slashed budgets, necessitating a revamped game plan, which Jouhet introduced 18 months ago. It decided to bank on imported dramas, such as the HBO offerings and others, including “Glee,” “Justified” and “The Walking Dead,” with a lesser emphasis on pricier firstrun films, notably Gallic movies. And it widened its distribution footprint over multiple operators, adding subscribers.

OCS’ strategy to switch gears from films to TV drama is a major concern for Gaul’s producers’ guilds, which are lobbying to have OCS sustain its investments in French cinema.

The question remains whether the U.S. shows can tide OCS over until purse strings loosen and more originals can be commissioned.

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