When Netflix bowed in France in late 2004, industry insiders predicted the U.S. streaming service would struggle to get access to local producers, talent and ultimately content, because of pre-existing relationships with French TV networks and the pay TV group Canal Plus.
Five years later, Netflix is about to launch a fully staffed office in Paris. It has also become one of the world’s biggest purveyors of French TV projects, not only through acquisitions but also with original series ranging from the political thriller “Marseille” to the romantic comedy “Plan Coeur,” and from the sci-fi drama “Osmosis” to the comedy “Family Business” and most recently the horror show “Marianne.” This year, Netflix also started collaborating with French broadcasters on ambitious big-budget shows, such as “The Bazar de la Charité” with TF1.
Boasting distribution deals with every French telco group — Orange, Bouygues, Free and SFR — Netflix now has an estimated 6.5 million subscribers in France. That’s more than Canal Plus, with which it recently signed a landmark deal to be included in a Canal Plus bundle. Amazon, meanwhile, recently made a deal with SFR, and has been slowing building a slate of French originals, mainly sports-themed documentaries like “Les Bleus, the Heart of a Russian Epic” and “Varane, destin de champion.”
Netflix’s push into original drama in France has been beneficial for the local talent pool from diverse backgrounds and independent producers because the demand for niche premium series has skyrocketed, and as Carole Scotta at Haut et Court (“The Last Panthers,” “The Returned”) says, it’s also transformed the way traditional TV channels commission content. They are also more willing to venture into daring shows. Haut et Court’s production slate includes the French-Israeli thriller series “Fertile Crescent,” which has been ordered by Hulu for the U.S. and Arte in France, from the creators of “False Flag.”
Speaking on a panel titled Streaming War at the Zurich Film Festival Summit, Scotta said the “arrival of Netflix has pushed Canal Plus and France Televisions to respond faster and it’s forcing them to be even more creative.” But on the downside, said Scotta, “Netflix hasn’t been producer-friendly enough, not understanding that the triangle writer/director/producer is the DNA of the French system.”
Many industry players have observed that Netflix was still on a learning curve in France, partly because local producers and creatives are finding it difficult to work with Netflix’s shorter development and production schedules.
Regardless of local concerns, Pascal Breton, whose Paris-based company Federation Entertainment co-produced “Marseille” and most recently “Marianne,” said the biggest benefit of streaming services, and Netflix in particular, is the way in which it has created a world audience for French shows. “Netflix amplifies the appeal of French shows abroad, and we expect that ‘Marianne’ will get a bigger audience outside of France than locally,” says Breton.
“That’s the model of Netflix — they’re counting as much on the Spanish, French and British series than on the American and Korean series to attract and retain subscribers,” adds Breton, whose company now has several projects in the pipeline with streaming services.
Christopher Riandée, the vice CEO (cq) of Gaumont, whose TV credits includes Netflix’s hit crime series “Narcos,” says the streaming service has not only created a global market for subtitled shows, it’s also opened the North American market for independent companies who don’t have the resources to go through the pilot phase that U.S. networks have in place. Gaumont’s roster includes 20 series commissioned by streaming services, including “El Presidente,” about the FIFA scandal, for Amazon, as well as the German epic series “The Barbarians” and “Arsene Lupin” with Omar Sy for Netflix.
A whole new chapter is now about to start for Netflix and Amazon in France, because of the upcoming launches of Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Peacock and the local SVOD service Salto will be creating unprecedented competition in the streaming market.
The European Commission has given all streaming services until the end of 2020 to have at least 30% of European content in their local catalogs. The 30% quota isn’t the only challenge for streamers. The European Commission has tasked each member state to determine ways in which streamers will have to invest in local content. France, which is one of Europe’s most lucrative markets and the one boasting the strictest regulations, will kick off discussions with Netflix in the coming weeks; those talks are meant to pave the way for other European countries.
On the table is a proposal to have Netflix and other streaming services invest at least 16% (which could go as high as 30%) of their annual revenues in France into the financing of French and European content. Another proposal is to limit the number of productions that streaming services can fully own to one-third of their local slate and have them share rights and profits with French producers on two-thirds of that content. A third issue is a proposal to increase the percentage they give to the National Film Board from the current 2% to 5.15%, according to Emmanuelle Mauger, the joint managing director of French independent producers’ organization SPI.
The new investment obligations will be listed in broad strokes in a broadcasting reform bill, which will be presented to the French broadcasting authorities, then the council of ministers, the parliament and the senate within the next few months. If the text gets greenlit, the French producers guilds, the USPA and the SPI, will have to reach an agreement over the details of the obligations with streaming services before the end of 2020, when the European Commission directives (including the 30% quota) will come into effect. If no agreement is struck, France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester told French journalists in late September, the government will be entitled to set the new terms itself.
These measures are meant to put all the streaming services, including local and global entities, on equal footing, says Mauger.
A Netflix spokesperson in France says the service was looking forward to engaging in discussions with local industries and will be willing to comply with regulations, hoping that these will serve the purpose of creating a level playing field rather than having a stifling effect.