Opening French doors to U.S. windows

French producer Gaumont Multimedia garnered industry attention last year when Space Goofs landed on Fox Kids, and the Fox pickup this year of Oggy and the Cockroaches confirmed the European series' ability to penetrate the U.S. kid psyche. Marc du Pontavice...
December 1, 1998

French producer Gaumont Multimedia garnered industry attention last year when Space Goofs landed on Fox Kids, and the Fox pickup this year of Oggy and the Cockroaches confirmed the European series’ ability to penetrate the U.S. kid psyche. Marc du Pontavice explains how Gaumont is taking advantage of new opportunities presented by the increasingly competitive U.S. market.

he children’s television market is shifting, and that is not only because of the changes in regulation (the FinSyn rules are over), but mainly because kids’ demands have evolved. In the U.S., the networks’ Saturday morning lineups are no longer ruling the ratings war. Kids want their television to become a full TV service devoted to them 24 hours a day.

This kind of change requires some fairly strong investment capacities. The new configuration of the market is a reflection of this movement-the market is concentrated in four hands: Disney, Fox, Warner and Nickelodeon. And the syndication market is so weak that it does not make economic sense for program suppliers without the support of a major toy deal attached. But rather than leading to shrinking demand, this consolidation has opened doors to the U.S. networks for foreign producers who, just two years ago, only saw opportunities in syndication, and to a more limited degree, on cable.

Gaumont Multimedia made advances onto U.S. network television when broadcasters first began looking to Europe for good children’s programming. Not many companies took advantage of this budding opportunity. Fox turned to us early in 1997 when the network was developing its fall lineup, and we were prepared to meet the demands imposed. We had prior experience with U.S. audiences, on cable with The Highlander: The Animated Series, and in syndication with Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz, so we knew how to produce both comedy and action series that appeal to U.S. viewers, and our track record proved that we are a reliable supplier that delivers on time.

When Gaumont Multimedia’s series Space Goofs debuted on Fox Kids Network in September `97, it was proof that we could produce a show whose production qualities and content could meet and exceed the demands of U.S. audiences. With its distinct brand of humor and unique look, Space Goofs was a hit with American kids, who can’t tell that the series is a European show. Gaumont Multimedia brings Fox something U.S. producers cannot deliver-a network-level series with a European edge. The success of Space Goofs led Fox to pick up our series Oggy and the Cockroaches, which premiered in September `98.

There are advantages and challenges in producing for a U.S. network. Ultimately, our relationship with Fox is mutually beneficial. Fox pays a lower rate for our shows than it does for series produced by American independents because we finance our productions through international co-production deals. The benefit to Gaumont is that we have autonomy over the artistic control of our series, aside from the traditional broadcast standards and practice requirements. And because Fox licenses both series, we retain ownership, as opposed to Highlander, Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz, which were co-produced with American companies that own the U.S. rights.

The challenges of supplying programs for syndication and cable are completely different from those we face in working with a U.S. network. It is essential to make our U.S. partners forget not only that we are French, but also that we are 10,000 kilometers from the decision center by responding to their needs in a timely manner. In addition, networks face more scrutiny from censors over what they air, and as a result, must be more demanding of format and content. Technical specifications are also very strict. The bottom line is that networks expect us to deliver a series that’s not only as good as an American-produced show, but better.

While the U.S. market is important to Gaumont Multimedia, and certainly raises the profile of a series, it is not as significant for international sales as some may believe. Gaumont generally sells the most important European territories before a U.S. deal is signed. In fact, all six series we produced have been sold to broadcast outlets in the five major European territories, which is very rare in such a competitive market.

We believe success lies in retaining our autonomy and maximizing the creative output of our great production team. In terms of artistic talent, there are no barriers between Europe and the U.S.-talent is universal. I also believe that the reason Fox has won the ratings battle over the years has to do with the variety of its programming and its desire to outsource a significant part of its schedule. By outsourcing its programming and allowing producers like Gaumont Multimedia to retain creative autonomy, Fox has built a library of unique standout product.

Fresh blood always leads to good health!

Marc du Pontavice is the president of Paris-based Gaumont Multimedia.

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