America, say 'bonjour' to TV5Monde

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You could call it a case of piggyback, French-style. Stop thinking what you're thinking. This is about an inspired piece of marketing by a U.S.-based French TV executive that has the entire French independent filmmaking sector saying oui to TV.

Patrice Courtaban is COO of TV5Monde in the U.S., the American version of the French pubcaster. This new year he's celebrating the expansion of the French-language broadcast into virtually every major city in America. Although the French programming menu is rich in news and French TV series and documentaries, Courtaban says one of the driving factors is the inordinate number of great new French movies that make it into American households.

"The film slots have proven very popular with our American viewers, and we just launched a third weekly film slot," Courtaban says. "These are French films that may never be seen on TV in France, and most have been released in France in just the past year."

Courtaban, who came to Los Angeles from the Paris headquarters of TV5 in 2001 to set up the U.S. service, has his roots in programming and marketing and saw a real opportunity to woo U.S. audiences with new French film releases that get piggybacked into America on TV5Monde.

In many cases, these are little gems of independent films that would be unlikely to get a significant U.S. theatrical distribution deal. "So many French distributors see our U.S. service as a good opportunity for exposure in America," Courtaban says. "Sometimes these are films that might just go on the festival circuit and not get a lot of exposure. Yet some of these films have been a huge success in France, and so it's really great value for the American viewers also."

As part of Courtaban's drive to brand TV5Monde as a movie lovers' TV channel, he is busily touting the service at film festivals nationwide. "Anywhere you find movie lovers, we advertise there," he says. He adds that TV5Monde's Sunday film broadcasts are premiering on TV for the first time in the U.S. (and sometimes worldwide). This month, for example, the service will feature the satirical "Le Couperet" from Oscar and Cesar Award-winning director Costa-Gavras.

Proud though he is of creating a new conduit into the U.S. for films from his native France, Courtaban is not slow to point out that the channel's sports and news services (it airs six hours of news daily) is a big draw in the U.S., providing as it does unique coverage of events like the Tour de France.

Having had a modest launch in 2001, the service has now expanded into virtually every U.S. market on major cable carriers -- with the exception, oddly enough, of French-flavored New Orleans. But the Crescent City is next on Courtaban's list.
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