Over the past five years, RTL Group’s M6, Gaul’s No. 2 commercial channel, has weathered the global economic meltdown, the ad market crisis and audience fragmentation due to the launch of many DTT channels in France.

Last year, the company’s ad revenues fell a tiny 0.6% while rival network TF1 was hit by a 5% drop. The ad market was down 4% over the same period.

“The DTT market has been intensely competitive; yet the M6 Group still managed to … register the biggest growth among all free-to-air channels with an audience share of 14%,” says Nicolas de Tavernost, M6 Group president, who points out its two free-to-air DTT nets, W9 and 6ter, are also successful.

M6 has been on the forefront of digital trends. Most recently, it launched Web 6play, an online platform grouping all the content from M6, W9 and 6ter. It won the French SMA award for best app.

Among the Web-exclusive content developed by M6, one of the highlights is the Golden Moustache online channel, which gets more 10 million videos views every month.

“Through these digital initiatives we’ve been able to source creative talent, gain knowledge of production and edition of digital content, and that’s enabled us to gain market shares,” de Tavernost says.

The channel’s new program “Qu’est-ce que je sais vraiment?” (What Do I Really Know), featured on 6play, attracted over half a million users to participate in the game online the night of the show’s airing on M6 on March 13.

While most French channels have been focusing on pricey thrillers and procedurals, de Tavernost says M6 has been banking on such tightly budgeted short-format comedy series as “Camera Cafe,” “Kaamelott,” “Soda,” “En Famille” and “Scenes de Menage,” which lead evening ratings.

Like TF1, M6 is also a leading purveyor of U.S. drama imports. It’s been particularly successful with “NCIS,” “Elementary” and “Bones” as well as the Steven Spielberg-produced “Under the Dome.”

As a French general entertainment channel, M6 has to invest at least 12% and 9% of its advertising revenues into European films and French-language films, respectively. But as movies no longer draw high ratings, the network has slowly been reducing the number of pics it acquires: It bought 170 films in 2003 and 103 movies in 2012.

On average, M6 broadcast about 50 films on primetime per year — most of which are mainstream productions from its M6 Films and SND banners.
Next up, de Tavernost says, “M6 will continue to launch digital content to get ahead of new trends and discover emerging talent, that’s what has made the strength of M6 for the past 25 years.”

A talent launched by M6, Kev Adams has now achieved a rising star status in France: He stars in “Fiston” (co-produced by M6 Films), which has had one of the biggest openings for a French movie so far this year.