French TV Sees Big Gains But Future May Be Shaped by Streamers

With cameras rolling again and commissioners hungry for fresh content, some of France’s biggest TV companies such as Newen, Mediawan and Federation Entertainment have so far been spared from major setbacks caused by the pandemic. Down the line, however, French players headed to Mipcom might have to rely more on streamers and international sources of financing as French broadcasters, which play a major role in funding content, could reduce their investment in 2021 as they cope with the continued drop in advertising revenues during the health crisis.

For now, at least, the massive restart of TV production in France has given industry executives some confidence in their business prospects.
When the lockdown ended in May, the French government set up a temporary indemnity fund of €50 million ($58 million) for canceled or postponed TV and film shoots during the pandemic; the fund was then doubled to €100 million ($117 million) by a pool of insurers and allows producers to be insured up to €1.8 million ($2.1 million) per film and 30% of their production budget.

“In France, we haven’t had too many damages on filming. When we have a COVID issue on a shoot we’re able to deal with it in a couple days and the fact that we have the indemnity fund to fall back on is a real bonus,” says Pascal Breton at Federation Entertainment, which has “Partisan,” “Cheyenne and Lola” and “Red Light” competing at Canneseries.

But when it comes to big international shoots, “it’s getting complicated and it’s a bit of a handicap,” admits Breton.

Thomas Anargyros, the head of Mediawan Studio, says the company is focusing on French productions during the health crisis. “Aside from one, ‘Les Rivières Pourpres’ all our shoots right now are French series, because it’s very difficult to film abroad, even in Europe, due to the lack of an indemnity fund like in France,” says Anargyros, who also presides the local TV producers guild.

For Anargyros, “independent producers whose business revolves essentially around international co-productions of drama and documentaries will see their annual revenues on a steep decline in 2020 because in many cases they won’t be able to deliver all their programs on time by the end of the year.”

Sarah Hemar, the managing director of the promotion org TV French Intl., says many companies are now anticipating a dearth of new programs to sell because of delivery issues and postponed shoots. She notes that banners that are the most at risk are the ones making international documentaries that need to shoot in the U.S., the U.K. and India, among other territories with travel restrictions.

When it comes to the impact of the pandemic on broadcasters’ resources for commissioning new content, “the impact could be felt in 2021 because broadcasters’ obligations of investment in local content is calculated on their annual revenues,” says Christophe Vidal, deputy CEO at Natixis Coficiné.
Breton predicts that “France Televisions will have the same budget as this year because the amount is safeguarded by the French government, while TF1 might lower their investment by 5% or 10% in 2021.”

But for now, the demand is surging from all parts. “It’s a good time for European players because TV channels and platforms are in demand for new programs — they already exploited their libraries as much as they could during the lockdown and the delivery of some U.S. shows has been delayed so the opportunities are there,” says Rodolphe Buet, head of distribution at TF1-owned Newen. He adds that the company has 17 productions filming.

Going forward, streamers are bound to play an even bigger role in the investment of French content when the European Commission directive called SMA kicks off next year. Although nothing is official yet, streaming services will need to split significantly more rights, or retain them for a shorter duration, and share IP with independent producers in France, as well as dedicate a big chunk of their advertising revenues earned in domestically on local content.

“This pact with streaming services will shape the TV landscape in France for the next five to 10 years,” Anargyros says.

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