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TF1 Reboots Digital Strategy With Social Media, Enhanced VR

TF1’s digital strategy took a major turn in February 2016.

From 2010 until 2016, the commercial network had mostly focused on developing multi-screen experiences for existing television properties — in short, transferring its pre-existing linear content onto as many non-linear platforms as possible. But Gilles Pélisson’s arrival gave TF1 top brass a chance to reboot.

Olivier Abecassis, VP, innovation and digital, says: “With Gilles, we decided we needed to move in four new directions. First, we needed to be on every platform we could monetize. Second, we needed to offer every kind of content. Third, we needed to move beyond France, and fourth, to cultivate our users. With these four pillars of our digital strategy, we decided to increase our development and to invest in others.”

The company has moved at a quick pace ever since. In December, it acquired a majority stake in the social-media platform MinuteBuzz, a Buzzfeed equivalent that boasts more than 9 million fans and produces several hundred videos a month.

In January, TF1 became a shareholding partner in Studio71, a multichannel network controlled by German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 that hosts more than 6 billion streams a month. Both platforms allow the network to reach new users out of broadcast range, and to do so with made-to-order content designed by and for those very users who once hovered frustratingly out of grasp.

“[Free streaming service] MyTF1 has almost 20 million users a month on all screens, in a market where there are 45 million internet users,” says Abecassis. “So we consider that if we do MyTF1 plus YouTube plus Facebook, we have the capacity to talk to all [users]. If we take the opportunity of TV plus digital video, we have the opportunity to grow.”

For whatever digital thoughts it harbors, TF1 remains France’s entrenched broadcast behemoth. MinuteBuzz, on the other hand, is a nimble start-up with threadbare staff mostly younger than 30, the kind that wiped their website clean in the belief that their videos should exist uniquely on social media or nowhere at all. So it goes without saying that integrating the latter into the former will require a fairly delicate touch.

While that is still in process, Abecassis tells Variety that MinuteBuzz will continue to be run outside the TF1 tower, with the autonomy and independence that made it such an attractive acquisition in the first place. At the same time, MinuteBuzz staffers now sit in on TF1 sales meetings, while members of TF1’s news and entertainment divisions have spent time in MinuteBuzz’s offices learning new ways to produce and develop innovative material.

The investment has already begun to bear fruit. TF1’s sales team recently signed a significant contract with food retailer co-op Système U for an array of branded content to be broadcast on linear and non-linear platforms, and MinuteBuzz’s involvement — specifically its promise of polished social media savvy — was key to sealing the deal.

The network has been ramping up its VR offerings as well, launching the My-TF1VR app in February in conjunction with the season premiere of “The Voice.” The app will be updated monthly, developing customized immersive experiences for their most popular shows — with a particular focus on reality competitions like “The Voice” and “Koh Lanta” with features that take viewers into the judges’ box.

The MyTF1VR app will also have news clips and documentaries, but, for the most part, be tied in with the shows broadcast on the network. “We want to have a dedicated VR application with original content linked to TF1 programming, and to use that TF1 programming to promote the VR app,” Abecassis says.

With more than 200K downloads already, MyTF1VR has showed early promise, and the network will use next year’s World Cup (for which it owns exclusive broadcast rights for 28 of the top matches) as a cross-promotional bonanza, so those numbers are likely to grow. But the network is still working on the most effective way to monetize it. Execs are as yet unclear if product-placement or branded content holds greater promise, and are working with the tech team, the sales force and the creative side to work out the answer.

But mere the fact that those questions are asked only goes to show how much has changed since February 2016

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