Banijay France has entered a joint venture with seasoned French industry player Malika Abdellaoui to launch Marathon Studio, as part of its strategy to ramp up its output in the scripted landscape.

Abdellaoui was previously managing director of Newen Distribution, the production and distribution company owned by French’s biggest TV network TF1 Group. Prior to joining Newen, Abdellaoui was deputy director of TV sales at EuropaCorp, as well as senior acquisition manager at the Disney Channel for France and EMEA. Abdellaoui will be the majority shareholder of Marathon Studio. Banijay France’s CEO François de Brugada pointed out that Marathon is a renowned brand name in France and “is one that Banijay has owned for some time.” Marathon was a subsidiary of Zodiak Media, which was bought by Banijay in 2016.

Banijay France also recently tapped French film and TV veteran Dominique Farrugia to take the leadership of Banijay’s production label EndemolShine Fiction, and oversee all of the business’s scripted operations. Farrugia, who is also a comedian and filmmaker, joined Banijay France from Studiocanal where he was deputy managing director, and previously collaborated with EuropaCorp to oversee their French-language productions.

Four months after Banijay’s takeover of EndemolShine, De Brugada spoke to Variety about the group’s strategy and positioning in France, a competitive field for content production and distribution, which has greatly consolidated over the last two years.

Why is Banijay France looking to increase its output in fiction and scripted?

We are still seeing strong demand in the fiction/scripted space with viewing consumption consistently high and competition remaining fierce between broadcasters and streamers all in search of the next high-quality hit. While we remain mainly focused on unscripted, we are continuing to broaden our offering and this latest JV increases our capabilities and complements our portfolio.

Why do you want Banijay France to remain focused on unscripted when the demand for scripted content is rising so much?

Non-scripted is at our core and has historically been the driving DNA for both businesses pre the merger. We have mastered this space and the group now stands as the largest unscripted producer and distributor in the world with a catalog of almost 100,000 hours, the majority of which are non-scripted. In the past year, we have already seen demand for unscripted content heighten worldwide, particularly with respect to the streamers and that is continuing in the face of COVID as buyers everywhere look to fill their slots and their pipelines. Often cheaper to produce and quick to turn around, it means we can take a show from concept to air or platform much quicker and that has been invaluable in the past six months. Undoubtedly we are the unscripted leader in France and we see that continuing; we are only a challenger on the scripted side and we want to grow our efforts here.

What impact is the pandemic having on the commissions of new or returning shows from broadcasters and streaming services?

We have been fortunate to see all our daily and weekly shows remain on-air throughout the pandemic, with strong performances from “28’,” “It’s Only TV,” “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” “Hold on to Your Seat” and “El Legado.” Like everyone, we have had to adapt and respond quickly to ensure a safe environment through Covid, meaning a reduction in bodies on set, with contributors increasingly filmed from home and at times our stars too, including Cyril Hanouna and Laurent Ruquier. We have also had to find entertaining ways of shooting without an audience in “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” relaunched “Deal or No Deal” in a live capacity, which drew in excess of one million viewers each night; and reimagined the formats and narratives for shows like “Party Workers” and “Survivor,” editing shorter episodes for longer runs, to aid our clients’ schedules.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a significant uplift in content consumption since lockdown and for us, a business that is primarily focused on unscripted, we have been fortunate to witness a strong appetite for our brands. Just in September, “28’” had its best first week ever, and elsewhere over the months since coronavirus struck, “Party Workers” had its healthiest season in terms of commercial demos, “Koh Lanta” (“Survivor”), even after 20 years, enjoyed its most successful launch since 2014, and “Pointless” scored all-time records. Based on these performances, we are increasingly confident at what could be in store for our first French adaptation of “Lego Masters.”

What opportunities is this challenging context creating for large groups like Banijay?

France’s broadcasters, like those across the world, are looking for strong brands that have the capacity to capture audiences and bring the whole family together. Being part of a significant global business that spans 22 territories and has a multitude of creative entrepreneurs supporting a catalog of over 88,000 hours of content means we have a range of brands to hand that have both local and global appeal. In Banijay France, we have immense talent and have already scored a huge following for standout IP including “Koh Lanta” (“Survivor”), “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” “Fort Boyard,” “Miss France,” “Prodiges,” “12 Coups/El Legado” – all high-quality, high entertainment hits. And with innovation at the heart of the group and our companies across the board, we are also constantly looking at new ways to refresh, reinvent and relaunch historic titles, with “Big Brother,” “MasterChef,” “Star Academy,” “Fear Factor,” “Popstars” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé” all being explored for French returns.

How is Banijay benefiting from the consolidation of its business?

While the business is currently progressing through the integration process, we are continuing to build the strength of Banijay France, with new talent forever joining our productions both on and off-screen. And as ever, we consider being part of the biggest international content producer and distributor, a huge asset. We as a group can now effectively compete with the U.S. studios with our scale, creative strength and IP offering and there is a no doubt our track record and capabilities instil trust in our clients across the board. Throughout lockdown the group came together to share best practice, risk assessments, intel and support, and together we have navigated the situation to ensure productions kept going, new ideas evolved and ultimately, we all drove value for the wider business.

What’s in Banijay France’s scripted pipeline?

The miniseries “Mention Particulière” is set for a comeback TF1 after a first season, which drew 6.5 million viewers; as well as “30 Vies,” a new ambitious school-set series for France 2; the second season of “Mental”; and the seventh and eighth seasons of “Skam” for France TV’s Slash platform. We are also developing an impressive adaptation of Emile Zola’s classic novel “Germinal,” for France 2, which will be an A-list costume drama affair.