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French buyers look for moral or ethical message

TV programs for children have become strong French products that identify a network. In fact, children's programs are one of the main reasons why people sign up for TPS and CanalSatellite. The two digital satellite platforms are competing fiercely, and this...
September 1, 1998

TV programs for children have become strong French products that identify a network. In fact, children’s programs are one of the main reasons why people sign up for TPS and CanalSatellite. The two digital satellite platforms are competing fiercely, and this is generating an unprecedented demand for new cartoons in France.

For TF1, cartoons must be sufficiently varied to interest children from age four to 10. At France 3, the leading channel for children under age eight, Bertrand Mosca, head of the youth department, has a budget of FF170 million (US$28.2 million), with one-third devoted to buying children’s programs that comply with the creed ‘to accompany kids like in a fun summer camp.’ France 2, the other public channel, aims at an older audience than France 3-kids age eight to 14-and can boast about becoming the leading channel for 11- to 14-year-olds.

France 2 has been successful with Goosebumps (Scholastic Productions in association with Protocol Entertainment), one of this year’s blockbusters. The success of Goosebumps shows that a good product, well marketed, does well everywhere. It is also indicative of a group phenomenon: kids enjoy being scared early on. Therefore, all the French buyers are looking for series, whether fiction or animation, modeled on science-fiction thrillers.

The need to protect children from physical and moral harm is one aspect of the kids program market in France. Programs are closely scrutinized by families and the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, and the channels have each created viewing teams to look for and monitor violence, sex, racism and sexism in children’s programming. Cartoons that teach something in a light and amusing way and have characters who follow a moral or ethical code will have a much bigger chance of being sold. The moral obligation of kids shows is even bigger as it is a known fact that youngsters tend to watch what the older ones watch. ‘Kids grow up faster, they feel mature sooner and want to watch things that they are too young to see,’ says Mireille Chalvon, programming consultant at Teletoon.

All the buyers say cartoons are an international product so long as they abide by professional rules, the rhythm and length correspond to the international market, and the visuals aren’t cheap or the graphics too artsy. Even cartoons featuring very American families, like The Addams Family and The Simpsons, do well. Therefore, the buyers don’t feel anxious about acquiring products made in the U.S., Australia or Japan.

By law, 60% of programs aired by channels broadcasting from France must be European, with at least two-thirds of these being French. The satellite channels that are received in different countries, such as Disney Channel, have lighter obligations, but they find it better to join in. ‘We created a French channel not because we were obliged to do so, but because experience has shown that the more you are rooted in a country, the more profitable it turns out to be,’ says Patrice Blanc-Francard, in charge of programs for Disney Channel France.

Supported by the grants given by the Centre National de la Cinématographie, French cartoon production has succeeded in being competitive in the area of long-run, 26-minute series, often international co-productions. The French market is in full swing, and has a strong demand for such series. Why is this? Because young audiences enjoy this program length.

Convincing audiences to become loyal to a channel is an obsession. This is why a new series will have a harder time finding its place. ‘In terms of new programs, we have a tendency to rely on products featuring characters that are already well known, like Tintin in comics,’ says Rachel Kahn, youth artistic director at France 2.

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