Annecy: New Studies Nail French Toons’ Highs, Challenges

Reports from French CNC film-TV board and export org UniFrance presented at Annecy’s MIFA market

Miniscule Valley of the Lost Ants

ANNECY – France remains Europe’s animation powerhouse, the third biggest producer of animated features in the world, and the locale of an equally massive toon TV industry whose shows dominate major broadcast networks and increased sales abroad for five years running over 2009-13, suggested a report from France’s CNC film-board presented at the Annecy Festival.

But while the envy of the rest of Europe, the CNC study paints, however, a picture of France’s animation industry where there is little room for complacency, and no clear sign as yet of a sustained commercial lift-off of its animated movie industry since Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp pulled out of big toon pic production after sustaining losses on its “Arthur” trilogy

“To talk about French animation is to talk about an industry of excellence, and that’s nit by chance but reflects the quality of our schools, R & D and technology, known the world over,” Frederique Bredin, president of France’s CNC film/TV board at Annecy Fest.

“We have great talents. Studios from all over the world come to recruit at Annecy, she added.

2014 CNC and Unifrance stats – a painstakingly compiled model for the rest of Europe – were presented at a packed press conference at Annecy’s MIFA market.  Challenges do, however, remain and the CNC is acting upon them.

2014 fundamentals:

*TV production volumes dropped 20.1% to 260 hours vs. 2013. Total production budgets came in at €178.1 million (), down 16.4%.

*Nine French feature films went into production in 2014, up from six in 2013. Average budgets dropped 48.3% to €7.85 million.

*Six French toon pics were released in France in 2014, making 3.6 times the ticket sales of 2013, a sign of the volatility of box office results for national film industries in Europe. Two films rocked at French theaters, however: “Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants” (1.5 million admissions), and “Asterix: The Land of the Gods” (2.68 million).

*France’s historic channels – TF1, France 2, France3, Canal Plus, France 5 and M6 – aired 3,539 hours of animation, 10.8% down on 2013, an indication of the continuing migration of toon shows to niche channels and digital platforms.

*Further confirmation: Catch-up animation TV ramped up dramatically, by 55.6% to 680 hours a month. VCR-seen-shows skyrocketed 174.3%, though from a low base, to 627.7 million videos viewed.

*“The success of ‘Kirikou and the Sorceress’ in 1998 in France (1.6 million admissions) and abroad in 1999 (820,000 tix sales) launched a French movie wave which has still to subside,” said an extract from an upcoming UniFrance export report. One reason: toon pics’ export heft. 32% of French animated features sell to 30-plus territories.

*“French animation film results may be cyclical, UniFrance observes, with French ton pic figures surging from “Kirikou” until “Arthur and the Invisibles” pushed foreign-territory animation admissions to 9.4 million in 2007, but overseas box office sinking from 2011 through 2013.

*2014 may, however, signal the beginning of an overseas box offce revival with “Miniscule” selling two million tickets abroad and, among other titles, two significantly budgeted titles – “The Little Prince,” which played well at Cannes, and “Mune,” an Annecy competition player, both from Aton Soumache’s Onyx Films – set to roll out internationally in 2015.

“The French state is wiling to support the animation industry,” Bredin said at Annecy, pointing out that France’s animation industry has created 5,000 jobs, 80% occupied by under-40s.

At Annecy, Bredin confirmed the first overhaul in years of France animation state support system. In line with strategy at Gallic pubcaster France Televisions, announced Wednesday, key measures include more coin for original shows, in contrast to adaptations – following complaints by French screenwriters about the large number of literary or comicbooks adaptations put into production at French broadcasters and more public moneys for development.

“We want to back French producers who take risks investing in the development of new works which allows France to remain competitive,” Bredin said.

Animation faces increased competition, not only from new online entrants in France, such as Netflix but from other demands on kids’ eyeball time, such as YouTube. The best way to compete is simply to make better shows.