Europe gobbling up French TV

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BIARRITZ -- French TV producers are saying merci beaucoup to their European neighbors, whose appetite for Gallic TV series is creating a mini boon for the local industry.

The latest figures show that €157 million ($213 million) worth of French programs made their way to international TV screens in 2006, TV France International were set to announce today(Thursday) at a press conference in Biarritz.

Export results for French TV programs rose 4.2% from 2005, according to the study conducted in partnership with state film body the CNC, with presales climbing 10.1% to €42 million ($57 million) and sales rising 2.3% to €115 million ($156.1 million).

The slow but steady sales increase was attribute primarily to the huge popularity of French programs in Western Europe, with €72 million ($97.7 million), or 62.6% of total sales abroad, bought by broadcasters in the region. Central Europe accounted for €9.6 million ($13 million) in sales, Asia €9.3 million ($12.6 million) and North America €14.2 million ($19.3 million).

Germany and Austria are big fans of their French-speaking neighbors, with 23.1% of programs sold to Western Europe landing in those territories thanks to a ubiquity of channels allotting plenty of room for sales from international markets. Among shows sold to Western Europe, 18.7% went to Italy, 14.2% to Belgium and 12.7% to Spain, which has been especially active, with a 71% increase in sales from 2005 to 2006.

The Middle East is starting to open up to Western animation production, thanks to the work of TV France International at the Dubai Showcase. Attractive prices are starting to counterbalance strong censorship in the territory.

U.S. sales weren't as strong as in 2005, but those numbers had been abnormally high, according to TV France International's executive director Mathieu Bejot.

"2005 was a bit exceptional for sales to the U.S. thanks to a real peak in animation," Bejot said. "Yet sales are still fairly high if you look at the long term market."

The decline of the U.S. dollar over the past year has affected licensing fees outside of Europe, which are paid in U.S. dollars. "Any sales outside of Europe cost us a few percentage points," Bejot explained. "The volume of activity is increasing, but net revenue is falling. More business doesn't necessarily mean more turnover."

Part of the increase in volume can be attributed to the rise in production of shorter formats. Though traditionally hesitant in its purchase of French fiction, French-speaking Canada is beginning to buy some series including "Life's So Sweet," a 26-minute Gallic soap opera about love and passion in the heart of the French Riviera.

France Televisions has been successful with its 26-minute adolescent series "Summer Dreams," which aired on France 3 earlier this year and nabbed a 20% audience share in its timeslot. The series was just sold to Mediaset in Italy and more than 750 episodes have been shot to date.

"For young viewers, 26 minutes is a perfect format," said head of international sales and co-productions at France Televisions Eric Verniere. The group also sold its 26-minute "Madame de Pompadour" to Italy's Rai.

In addition, France Televisions' breakout period miniseries "Chez Maupassant" has been selling well in Eastern Europe and the show's second season already is in the works.

Marathon's 90-minute mystery series "Dolmen" attracted more than 12 million viewers when it aired in France during summer 2005 and sold all over Western Europe last year, with huge popularity in Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe.

TF1 is hoping for strong sales from last summer's popular 52-minute saga "Lost Signs," which averaged about 7 million viewers.

Documentaries and informational programs provided 28.5% of total sales, followed by fiction with 22.1%, games and variety shows with 10.1%, news programs with 7.2% and music and theater 4.5%.

TV France is hoping that this year's Rendez-Vous, which wraps Thursday night in the seaside resort town, will boost 2007 figures and promote sales of Gallic titles in the 52 countries represented by buyers during the 13th annual event.

"People are doing more and more business here. It's more relaxed. Everything's been taken care of -- lunches, dinners -- so they don't have to worry about anything but screenings and meetings," Bejot said.
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