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Studiocanal Initiates Overseas Roll-Out on ‘The Five,’ ‘Section Zero,’ ‘Baron Noir’(EXCLUSIVE)

Vivendi content powerhouse targets TV as growth business

Driving hard to build its TV content business, Studiocanal, owned by Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group, has initiated international sales on three of its latest TV series: Harlan Coben’s “The Five,” (pictured) futuristic thriller “Section Zero” from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp TV, and political drama “Baron Noir,” which, like “Section Zero,” is a Canal Plus Original Series.

In the series’ biggest deal to date outside Europe, Australian broadcast network SBS has acquired all three titles.

Produced for the U.K.’s Sky 1 by Nicola Shindler’s London-based RED Production Company (“Happy Valley”), “The Five” has also been picked up by the Prime network in New Zealand, Yes DBS in Israel and NPO in the Netherlands. It world-premiered on Sky 1 on April 15, and has aired on France’s Canal Plus.

A Studiocanal sale to SBS Australia was always on the cards. “Australians love high-quality drama series, and we’re committed to bringing the very best the whole world has to offer,” said Marshall Heald, SBS Australia director of TV and online content. “The Five” will bow on SBS’s world drama package on SBS Demand from June 30.

Cutting to the chase in its very first episode, when a 5-year-old is abandoned by his 12-year-old brother and friends and disappears, “The Five” has some of the pace and end-of-episode cliffhangers of a U.S. broadcast network procedural.

That may help explain its range of sales. Though produced for a pay-TV network channel, two of its early deals, to New Zealand’s Prime and Dutch pubcaster NPO, are with free-to-air networks. “The Five” is set to air on NPO2’s Detective Month of crime dramas, cast as alternative programming to the bi-annual UEFA Euro and World Cup soccer tournaments aired on NPO1, said Hans Schwarz, NPO’s managing director of acquisitions.

First sales announcements on “The Five,” “Section Zero” and “Baron Noir” come as both Studiocanal and Canal Plus Group are pushing to up the ante on TV production and sales, which they regard as a strong growth business. TV revenues currently account for slightly more than 10% of Studiocanal’s business, said Rudolph Buet, president of international distribution and marketing. Didier Lupfer, chairman and CEO, said at Cannes MipTV trade fair in April that he would like that figure to rise to 25%.

Last year, Studiocanal tapped Katrina Neylon, a former senior sales executive at the U.K.’s Shine Intl., as executive vice president of TV sales and marketing in order to launch an international sales operation. Over the last 12 months, it has established TV-film sales teams in France, the U.K., Germany and Australia, with Neylon overseeing their TV sales strategy.

Rather than buy distribution pipes, Studiocanal has taken equity in some of its key suppliers.

At this April’s MipTV, Studiocanal announced it had taken minority stakes in three TV production companies: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sunny March TV and “Atlantis” producer Urban Myth Films, both based out of London, plus Spain’s Bambu Producciones (“Velvet,” “Gran Hotel”), headed by Teresa Fernandez Valdes, producer of Netflix’s first original series in Spain. Studiocanal now owns part or all of eight TV production companies spread across Western Europe. But three quarters of these will not deliver their first series for Studiocanal before 2017 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Canal Plus is stepping up not so much the number of series it is creating as its series’ scale. “Section Zero”cost €2 million ($2.3 million) per episode, according to EuropaCorp’s Edouard de Vesinne. That figure is double the usual budget in France.

“There is a huge appetite for distinctive drama,” Buet said. But, he added, “to compete in Europe with U.S. productions, you need to have something special, rooted in European culture and with high-quality production values.”

Selling about 30 hours of new TV drama in 2015, Studiocanal will handle 60 to 70 hours this year, and has a target of more than 100 hours of original TV production in 2017, Lupfer says.

Studiocanal’s TV build comes in the wake of the success of “Borgen,” with top-flight TV sales companies seeing a dramatic increase in the number of territories sold on hit European dramas, whether English or foreign-language.

The question is how many more dramas can cross over to substantial TV sales outside their country of origin. Sales deals are under negotiation in key European territories on “The Five,” says Buet.

“We are a European company. We have a lot of stories to tell in Europe. If we first succeed in delivering European shows which are relevant for Europe and fulfill the needs of European broadcasters, we will have taken an important first step forward,” he said.

He added that Studiocanal’s strongest sales prospect in upcoming months is likely to be “Midnight Sun,” a noir-ish procedural set near the Arctic Circle in Sweden. The series is backed by Canal Plus and Sweden’s SVT and penned by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, two of the lead writers of “The Bridge.” It is spoken largely in English, with scenes in French and Sami, the region’s indigenous language, lending a distinctiveness and strong sense of place to the show.

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