Biarritz Event Showcases Strong French TV Program Exports

Despite challenges from regulations and tech players like Netflix, France continues to sell more television programs to the world

France’s biggest annual TV confab is getting bigger.

A record 68 exhibitors will attend Biarritz’s 21st Le Rendez-Vous, organized by program export org TV France Intl. The event will encompass 1,178 shows, of which 27% fiction, 15% animation and 58% docs.

A total of 72 counties and 272 buyers have registered, representing Europe’s main pubcasters and key international players, including RTL, Sky Italia, Sony Germany, Turner and Globosat.

Increasingly buffeted by competition from operators such as Netflix, French broadcasters are looking to invest in innovative programming in order to power domestic ratings and unlock international sales. A poster child for this effort is zombie thriller “The Returned,” whose second season screens at Biarritz.

“Series like ‘The Returned’ and procedural drama ‘The Witnesses’ — both of which aired during primetime on U.K.’s Channel 4 — have opened up new avenues,” says TVFI’s exec director Mathieu Bejot. “There’s now a growing tendency for more diverse genres, such as fantasy and futuristic shows.”

Zodiak Rights sold season one of “The Returned” to 113 territories. Caroline Torrance, the company’s head of international scripted, says deals have been inked in many territories for season two.

The Biarritz Rendez-Vous includes two themed dinners — one for futuristic thriller “Trepalium,” the other for culinary travel show “Taste Hunters.” Also in the program are special screenings of marine wildlife series “+/- 5 meters” and season three of priest drama “The Churchmen.”

English-language shows will also be highlighted, in particular the €27 million ($30 million) historical drama “Versailles” (pictured above), a Canal Plus original series penned by Simon Mirren (“Without a Trace”) and David Wolstencroft (“Spooks”), repped by Zodiak Rights, with sales announced to Spain’s Movistar TV and Germany’s SquareOne Entertainment.

“English-language shows like ‘Versailles’ have had a big impact on French production,” Bejot adds. “They help put us on the map.”

French authorities have recently attempted to boost TV content investment, currently dampened by a stagnant ad market.

Jean-Baptiste Sergeant, an analyst at MainFirst, estimates that TF1’s ad revenues will be flat in 2015 and M6’s revenues will only rise by 0.8%. This led the channels to increase programming costs by only 0.7% and 1.6% respectively.

In order to encourage more spending, a law enacted in April allows broadcasters to hold producer rights and thereby build program libraries.

TF1 Intl. — the sales arm of France’s leading commercial network, responsible for franchises such as Luc Besson’s “No Limit” and French procedural “Profiliage” — is repping 13 drama series at Le Rendez-Vous, including talent agent comedy “Call My Agent” and crime thriller “No Second Chance.”

Francois Godard of Enders Analysis says further legislative changes are required. “France’s strict regulatory regime is like the Maginot Line,” he says. “We’ve seen what happens in other markets where operators such as Sky start developing innovative content, like Italian drama series ‘Gomorrah.’ French broadcasters need more edgy dynamic series, but they’re hampered by regulatory constraints.”

Sergeant concurs: “Private broadcasters TF1 and M6 have a lot of cash, but they’re very wary of investing in expensive programming and cannot acquire production companies for regulatory reasons.”

Notwithstanding such restrictions, France is now viewed as an increasingly fertile ground for innovative narratives and new talent, with high-profile French-language series being developed early on with U.S. or U.K. partners.

“We’re seeing tremendous talent coming from France at the moment,” Torrance says. “Directors, actors and producers are increasingly crossing borders between film and television, with eyes on international.”

Animation is another strong suit. New shows include Gaumont Animation’s “Calimero,” commissioned by TF1 and Disney Junior.

Overall, French TV exports have been rising over recent years, including an 8% hike in 2013, to $150 million. Homegrown fiction rose by 14.1%. Bejot says the trend continued in 2014; full stats will be disclosed during the event.

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