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Canal Plus International Puts Premium on High-End African Content

French pay TV giant boards prestige drama series set to lens in Mauritius, SA

JOHANNESBURG — Canal Plus International is hoping to score with a new prestige drama series set in the glamorous, high-stakes world of African soccer.

Production is set to begin next month on “Agent,” an ambitious co-production with Mauritius’ Cinebar Studios and Collective Dream Studios.  Lensed in Mauritius and South Africa with an international cast, the series is the latest sign that Africa plays a key role in the French pay-TV giant’s long-term plans.

“Five years ago, Canal Plus…decided to really turn around its business in Africa,” said Francois Deplanck, senior VP of channels and content at Canal Plus Overseas.

While that meant changing distribution strategies and offering packages at attractive, mass-market price points, Deplanck said the company was even more determined to shift its emphasis from imports to develop content “that’s really made for our African subscribers.”

With the 2014 launch of A+, a premium pan-African entertainment channel based in Abidjan, Canal Plus International signaled its intent to woo the continent’s burgeoning middle-class. Since then the company has ramped up its production across Africa, investing heavily in project development and co-producing roughly 20 TV series a year.

There’s a growing emphasis on premium content. Last year, Canal Plus Overseas signed a development deal with Restless Global and Ten10 Films for “The Trade,” an ambitious, prestige series based on the West African drug trade and largely set in Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, and France.

At Discop on Friday, Canal Plus International signed an agreement with Keewu Production, Lagardère Studios’ Dakar-based subsidiary, to produce the police comedy series “Sakho and Mangane.” It’s also developing “Forces Spéciales Africaines,” a sweeping pan-African action series produced with Moroccan partners.

With “Agent,” Deplanck said he saw a perfect fit for the company’s target demographic, noting that “the pillars of premium TV and Canal + International are sports and scripted content.”

The series tracks the life of a former soccer star working as a high-powered agent, managing egos and chasing talent as he struggles to escape his tragic past. Created and written by Athos Kyriakides (pictured), “Agent” is being developed for both pan-African and global appeal, with casting from South Africa, Mauritius, Nigeria, France and the U.K. The series has been pre-sold to Canal Plus International and South African pubcaster SABC1.

Deplanck heralds the partnership with veteran South African producer Jeremy Nathan, of Cinebar Studios, calling it an exciting opportunity to work with people “who are making things happen.”

Said Nathan: “It’s an honor to be working closely with Francois and Cecile Gerardin at Canal Plus International, and to be part of their elevated African plans.”

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