After being caught in successive regulatory delays for nearly two years, France’s new streaming service Salto finally launched at the start of November, right in time for a second national lockdown due to the pandemic.
In an ironic twist of fate, Salto, a joint initiative between TF1, France Télévisions and M6, came out in France right when Netflix chose the country to test a new linear channel. So, how will Salto carve itself a niche in a competitive market like France where Netflix boasts about 9 million subscribers, and where a string of other streamers (including Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus), and pay TV channels (Canal Plus, OCS) co-exist? Thomas Follin, general director of Salto, spoke to Variety about the positioning, strategy and ambitions of Salto. Follin declined, however, to disclose the service’s yearly budget for acquisitions and originals.
First off, how would you describe Salto as a service?
It’s a subscription-based service priced at €6.99 [$8.27] per month that offers 10,000 hours of programs, including catch-up content from 19 different channels belonging to TF1, France Télévisions and M6, as well as premieres of upcoming shows, and fresh content available for streaming. Our goal is to reach 15,000 during our first trimester.
We have nearly all the shows that rank the highest in the top-100 ratings of TV audiences in France. There, you find films and series, but also soaps, reality shows, sports, documentaries, children’s programs and talk shows.
Molotov already offers catch-up content from nearly every channel in France, so what’s different with Salto?
The difference is that all our big shows are available in their entirety. It’s not just a couple of episodes — it’s entire seasons. We also have new episodes of the most-watched daily soaps, like “Plus belle la vie” or “Demain nous appartient,” which will launch on Salto exclusively 48 hours before their air dates in France, and new episodes of U.S. series like “Fargo” or “Manifest,” which will be available only 24 hours after airing in the U.S. We also have episodes of reality shows like “L’amour est dans le pré” early.
What about “Call My Agent,” which just finished airing on France Télévisions, the commissioner and co-financier of the show. Did you get access to the fourth season before Netflix?
So, up until now we weren’t established in the streaming landscape, though “Call My Agent” is typically the kind of premium series that we will strive to offer exclusively to our subscribers going forward. But all three seasons of “Call My Agent!” are available now on Salto.
How do you think you can attract viewers who already subscribe to a number of other services in France?
We think there is room for a service that caters specifically to a French audience. On top of the staple French series, soaps and reality shows, we know that the French audience is interested in content from abroad so we have international gems from the U.S. (“Looking for Alaska”), Canada (“C’est comme ça que je t’aime”), Scandinavia (“Exit”), Spain (“The Pier”), Belgium, etc.
Streaming services like Netflix were initially targeting younger demographics and are now catering to a much wider audience. What’s Salto’s target demo?
We have now all understood that streaming isn’t just for the young, upper-class and/or urban customers that are only interested in American series. Streaming is for everyone, and that’s why we want Salto to attract the widest possible demographics. That’s why we have a very broad range of content and we’re using algorithms differently.
For instance, we’re proposing content that will fit a certain mood, or personality, or even an astrological sign. We try to be a bit playful, not just bombard people with library titles but try to trigger their curiosity. Obviously we use data to better understand customers but we’ll also always try to editorialize the content we offer. In terms of profiles, we are also providing profiles for families, groups of friends and couples who may be watching Salto together.
What about fresh movies, what do you have access to considering France has a strict windowing policy for SVOD services?
We can only have access to movies 36 months after their release in theaters [like Netflix].
And what about fresh series that air on TF1, France Télévisions or M6, isn’t there a limit to the volume of series you can get access to?
We are able to acquire the SVOD rights to shows that were bought by our parent companies (TF1, M6 and France Televisions). Most of the time, when TV channels commission shows, there is a contractual hold-back that blocks the SVOD window, but when we want to acquire a show, they lift these hold-backs and sell us back those SVOD rights. That way we can stream the show at the same time as it airs, or even before.
A recent example of a show that aired simultaneously on France Televisions and Salto is “Laetitia,” from Antoine Lacomblez and Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the Oscar-winning director of “The Staircase.” Or even “The Pier,” which was initially bought by TF1. It hasn’t aired yet but we bought SVOD rights and are offering it now. The anticipated “Agatha Christie” series “And Then There Were None” will also premiere on Salto at least six month before its broadcast.
In terms of a limit to the number of series we can access from our parent companies, it’s set at 40%.
And unlike BritBox, for instance, Salto will have to repurchase rights to shows to fill its library, right?
Yes, in France, we can only have exclusive rights for a certain period, even if we’ve fully financed a show.
Isn’t that a big issue for you? How are you going to create a robust library if you have to keep repurchasing rights?
We’re investing in new productions. For instance we have invested in the ambitious period series “Germinal,” an adaptation of Emile Zola’s classic, with RAI and France Televisions — we are co-financier on this series — and we’re also going to do some original production at Salto.
In our slate of Salto originals, there is a political thriller called “Pandore” that we’re doing with the Belgian broadcaster RTBF. It will launch on Salto in France; not on any other channel or service in France. We’re developing a documentary on the cult Order of the Solar Temple that Jean-Xavier de Lestrade is directing. We’re also investing in non-French content. We have invested in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe,” an anthology of five Afro-Caribbean films, and also “The North Water,” Andrew Haigh’s series with Colin Farrell and Jack O’Connell. We’ll have exclusive rights in France to that.
Where is Salto distributed in France? Are you available on set-top boxes like Netflix or Amazon?
So we’re accessible on multiple platforms, such as mobiles, tablets, computers, as well as on connected TV’s. We’re also in discussions with telco groups [which in France include Orange, SFR, Free, Bouygues and Canal Plus] to be distributed more widely on set-top boxes.
How do you anticipate that Salto will be impacted by the EU ‘s Audiovisual Media Services Directive starting on Jan. 1? [As other streaming services operating in France, Salto will have to invest about 25% of its annual turnover on French content, including on films, as well as limit its share of in-house productions.]
Salto was born with this Audiovisual Media Services Directive as its backdrop so we have no issue with it and we’re abide by it. When it comes to movies, we’ll be very selective. We don’t aim to have a huge library. Right now, we’re showcasing films by masters like Marcel Pagnol, Sofia Coppola, Pedro Almodovar, movies starring Paul Belmondo. We’re very niche-oriented when it comes to movies. We don’t need to have 1,000 titles, but every week we’re have a different strand of movies.