CANNES– When France’s biggest commercial network group TF1 tied the knot with Fabrice Larue’s Paris-based indie powerhouse Newen last November, it made a big splash in the local television landscape, marking for the first-ever alliance between a network and a production entity in Gaul.
Ranking as the third biggest French production banner after Zodiak/Banijay and Lagardere, Newen has been delivering some of France’s most successful drama series, such as “Braquo” and “Versailles” for Canal Plus and hit daily soap “Plus belle la vie” as well as the long-running, female-driven cop show “Candice Renoir,” both for public broadcaster France Televisions. Its subsidiaries include Telfrance, Capa and 17 Juin Productions.
In an interview with Variety, Fabrice Larue, the CEO and chairman of Newen Group, and his right-hand man Tanguy de Franclieu, CEO of Newen Studios, explained how their partnership with TF1 (which now owns 70% of Newen) will allow both companies to raise their international profiles and expand their global outreach.
The alliance between Newen and TF1 rubbed France Televisions the wrong way — reportedly leading to the cancellation of most ongoing commissions, notably documentary series and skeins, with the exception of “Plus belle la vie.” Meanwhile, the consolidation was applauded by then culture minister Fleur Pellerin, who noted that the agreement would allow for the flourishing of a new French media giant.
Larue said Newen explored options in the U.K. before signing with TF1, and eventually decided to join forces with TF1 because it allows Newen to retain a high level of autonomy as well as maintain its own strong brand and DNA, which he predicts would have possibly been diluted if the company had integrated a British media giant.
Integrating TF1 also means that Newen is first and foremost looking to develop content out of France, working with local talent, helmers and showrunners and export this content overseas, Larue pointed out.
With TF1’s backing, Larue targets to get Newen into the top 10 of the biggest production companies in Europe, along with Shine Endemol, FremantleMedia, ITV Studios, among others.
For Newen, which independently financed the 30 million Euros “Versailles” — one of the priciest series ever made in France — allying with TF1 was crucial to access bigger budgets and gain equity on the series it produces, explained Larue, who is so well connected in France that he managed to get France President Francois Hollande to attend the cocktail reception celebrating the launch of the series at the Chateau de Versailles last fall.
Another major axis of development envisioned by Larue is the ramping up of third-party acquisitions and international co-productions. With shingles like Studiocanal aggressively investing in drama acquisition and co-productions, Newen needed financial muscle to measure up. Newen has also just tapped former consultant Sandra Ouaiss as director of international co-production. She’ll be in charge of selecting projects and negotiating strategic partnerships with international producers and talent.
The alliance with Newen is also meant to benefit TF1, which is a market leader in France with an audience averaging 20% (a score unmatched by other European networks) but is absent outside of its home market and is lagging behind in terms of IP. Newen can allow TF1 to position itself on content, diversify and be involved in international distribution independently from the group’s channels.
Going forward, De Franclieu said Newen was looking to produce one of two series with a similar scope as “Versailles” per year. Like “Versailles,” Newen’s English-language shows will be developed out of France.
On its development slate, Newen boasts “Geneva,” an upscale drama project written by Nikolaj Scherfig and Morten Dragsted. Season two of “Versailles” is currently shooting for Canal Plus.
Addressing antitrust concerns over the acquisition of Newen by TF1, Larue said the companies would work together on a case-by-case, as Newen plans on continuing to work with other French channels. Newen has so far mostly worked with Canal Plus on edgy fare such as “Braquo” and “Versailles” or France Televisions with “Candice Renoir” and “Plus belle la vie.” Larue pointed out Newen recently delivered two TV movies “Flic, tout simplement” and “Apres moi le bonheur,” which aired on TF1 and earned solid ratings.