France Televisions marching to own beat

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PARIS -- French pubcaster France Televisions plans to continue to set itself apart from rival private networks during the 2007-08 season, the group emphasized at a news conference in Paris on Thursday.

"We're proud of our uniqueness," France Televisions' president Patrick de Carolis said at the presentation, complete with musical interludes at the Salle Pleyel. "We're not producing the same television as everyone else."

While fellow networks TF1 and M6 saw a dip in viewers this summer compared with the same period in 2006 -- a 6.9% drop for TF1 and a 7.5% fall for M6 -- France 2 and France 3 suffered just under a 2% loss of viewers each. "This is proof that our strategy for a harmonized group is justified," De Carolis said.

The group, which encompasses public channels France 2, France 3, France 4, France 5 and France O, also has distinguished itself from its fellow networks by focusing more on national product and less on U.S. series. While U.S. shows account for 33% of TF1's programming and 45% at M6, only 6.5% of the lineup at France 2 and France 3 is devoted to such overseas imports.

Instead, France Televisions is investing a record €275 million ($374.5 million) on fiction production this year. France 2's period literary adaptation "Chez Maupassant," an eclectic series based on short stories by 19th century author Guy de Maupassant, attracted more than 8 million primetime viewers per week and a second season already has been ordered for the upcoming season, with four new star-studded tales on tap for the new lineup.

France Televisions will continue to make a hard sell for its ubiquitous historical fictions with a 17th century series featuring adaptations of works from Zola, Flaubert and Hugo planned for 2009 and a 20th century literature-based series in development for a 2010 broadcast. France 2 also will air miniseries "Guerre et Paix" (War and Peace), a seven-country co-production with a €28 million ($38.1 million) budget.

The public network also is jumping on the shorter-format bandwagon, with a daytime series planned for spring to complement the success of the popular daytime series "Plus Belle la Vie," which averages more than 6 million viewers per night. Science-based programming also is at the top of the group's priorities for the new season as are its news and information programs and documentaries.

De Carolis is hoping to identify France Televisions as "a modern, public and European group" and highlighted the group's efforts to adapt its programming to new technologies.

"For the past two years, we've done nothing but make changes," he said. With recently announced new media partners Google Video and Orange, a soon-to-be-launched news Web site combining the editorial content from France 2, France 3 and subsidiary network RFO and major investments in the national digital TV service TNT, France Televisions is making big plans for the future.

According to De Carolis, the group is making strides so that all of its programs can eventually be broadcast in HD.
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