French TV Animation: Kids Shows’ VOD Sales Buoy Overseas Biz

Animation remains the most internationally-oriented segment of the French film and TV industries

Miraculous: The Tale of Ladybug and
©Zagtoon/Method Animation/Toei/SamgAnimation/SKBroadband/AB Intl./DeAgostini

For one week in June, much of the world’s animation business gathers at the Annecy Animation Festival in the French Alps.

Beyond the U.S., no animation presence is as important as France’s. This isn’t just a case of France playing host. The French TV animation sector is the world’s third largest, after the U.S. and Japan, generating €45 million ($51.3 million) in total exports in 2014, according to data disclosed by French state film agency, the CNC.

French TV animation repped 29.3% of total French TV programming sales in 2014 – the biggest single category.

TV animation is also the most internationally-oriented segment of the French film and TV industry – 73.1% of shows were co-produced with foreign partners in 2014, compared to 39% for TV fiction and 15.9% for TV documentaries.

International sales of French TV animation recorded five consecutive years of growth between 2009 and 2013, then dipped by 3.9% in 2014 primarily due to a reduction in the volume of programming in that year.

Sales data for 2015 is not yet available, but Mathieu Bejot, executive director of French export promotion org TV France International states that the underlying sales trend is positive, especially in kids programming platforms where there are buoyant sales. He says that TVFI members have also stated that the proportion of deals with VOD platforms, including U.S. platforms, has increased.

Western Europe is the main source of foreign sales of French TV animation – contributing 59.6% of total sales in 2015, with a further 5% from Central and Eastern Europe. Licensing deals to North America repped 24.8% of total sales in 2005 but fell to 12.8% in 2014, now surpassed by sales to the Asia/Pacific regions, at 13.8%.

France is the second biggest foreign supplier of animation programming to U.S. kids channels, after Canada, according to data disclosed by the French animation producers union, SPFA, and TV France International. Top selling French series in the U.S. include: “Pyjamasques,” produced by Frog Box, on Disney Junior; “Miraculous: The Tale of Ladybug and Cat Noir” (Zag Toon, Method Animation), airing on Nickelodeon; “Alvin and the Chimpmunks” (Ouido) on Nick Junior; and “Garfield” (Mediatoon) on Boomerang.

On SVOD platforms, such as Netflix and Hulu, top shows take in “Super 4” (Method Animation), “Zou” (Cyber Group Studios), “Vic the Viking” (Studio 100), “Foot2Rue” (Zodiak Kids), “F is For Family” (Gaumont Animation), “Mouk” (Millimages), and “Sam Sam” (Mediatoon).

In terms of volume of first-run originated animation hours, France is dwarfed by the U.K. – 1,446 hours in the U.K. compared to 260 hours in France in 2014, per data disclosed by the European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO).

But according to the EAO, French TV animation ranks above the U.K., in terms of animation programs listed in MIPJunior’s Top 30 lists of most-requested shows, by country, for 2010-2014.

Gallic animation skeins encompass a large spectrum of production, ranging from pre-school to animation projects for adult audiences, and including 2D and 3D animation.

Nonetheless, the main demographic target continues to be from pre-school to 6-12 year-olds, with pronounced narratives, well-known characters, slick visuals and physical comedy. Many French series are based on high-profile or existing properties, linked to France’s strong comic book market, which makes it possible to launch characters who have many followers, not just in France but also abroad.

Marc du Pontavice, prexy of Xilam (“Oggy and the Cockroaches”) comments: “In French live action film and TV, most of the comedy is either with culturally-driven dialog or situation comedy, which is obviously culturally ingrained,” he suggests. “In animation, the language we are using is physical comedy, in the tradition of Chaplin and silent cinema, something that everyone can relate to very easily.”

Recent series featuring characters based on books, include  “Simon” (produced by G-N) from books by Stephanie Blake, “PJ Masks” (TeamTO), “Bobby and Bill” (Mediatoon), and “Will” (produced by Cross River, distributed by Superights).

Foreign sales of French TV animation is more concentrated than in other segments – with 58.7% of sales contributed by the top five companies and 78.7% by the top ten companies in 2014.