From a French point of view, the U.S. video market is hardly open to kids productions at all, be they original DTV, theatrical productions or TV series.
Olivier Brémond, GM of Paris-based production and distribution company Marathon, says that pretty much the only U.S. success he’s had is in the educational video market. Educational kids documentaries such as I Love School, I Love My City and Born Winners (distributed by Landmark) and My Animal and Me (distributed
by New Dimen-sion Media) have netted U.S. receipts of US$100,000 to date. Brémond adds that he is getting strong interest from educational distributors for two new 30 x seven-minute docs called My Beautiful House and I Love Music, but Marathon still hasn’t managed to sell a single title into the U.S. retail video market, and has only managed to sell one title into the U.S. via direct mail. The Secret World of Father Christmas, based on the 13 x 30-minute TV series, went State-side when Chicago, Illinois-based distributor Questar acquired the U.S. video rights, but Brémond says that sales ‘have not been exceptional,’ despite getting the series aired on Fox Family Channel. Still, Brémond has hope for the future, saying he is cautiously optimistic about Nelvana/Marathon co-production Mythic Warriors (currently airing on CBS in the U.S. and distributed in North America by Nelvana) and Enigma, a 52 x 26-minute Millésime Productions series (distributed by Marathon), which aired on Fox Family last summer and again in January. Brémond says he’ll keep trying because the U.S. market offers more niches than anywhere else, and once a producer has found good distributors, the overall video benefits can be much higher than in France. He adds that the U.S. video market also tends to be an excellent promotional device to sell the video rights of any series internationally.
Marc du Pontavice, executive producer at Gaumont Multimedia for the series Oggy and the Cockroaches and president of the newly founded French company Xilam, finds the U.S. market just as frustrating. ‘You still can’t count on the U.S. market when you invest in a series, particularly if it is an original European creation,’ he says. He has only managed to sign two U.S. video deals during his time at Gaumont. The first was for the animated action-adventure series The Highlander, distributed by Live Entertainment (now Artisan) and the second was with Columbia for Dragonflyz and Sky Dancers. Each of the Columbia videos has netted U.S. receipts of about US$500,000 so far. ‘Since then, the video market has collapsed [from a French perspective],’ he says. ‘There is too much on offer to give European productions a chance of any retail distribution.’
Getting that distribution is difficult, but not impossible. Denis Friedman, general director of new France-based production company Chaman, explains that having a solid U.S. partner or distributor is the key. Following his own advice, he hooked up with Film Roman and handed over all U.S. TV, video and theatrical rights for 3-D animated sci-fi feature Ga-na, an 85-minute co-production with Studio Canal+, Canada’s Cactus Animation and Germany’s Stardust Entertainment to be released in 2001.
While the French infiltration of the U.S. seems to be a trickle at best, the U.S. invasion of France is more of a tidal wave. According to national video association SEV (whose 15 members make up more than 80% of the French market), two-thirds of the French kids market is controlled by Disney productions through Buena Vista Home Entertainment France, and 6% is controlled by PolyGram Video. DTV animation productions consisting of features and shorter specials based on classics make up much of PolyGram’s fare, with current offerings including two Millimages Productions, Peau d’Ane and Les Malheurs de Sophie. The remaining market is controlled by distributors such as Citel, France Télévision Distribution, Sony and TF1 Vidéo. These distributors tend to capitalize on well-known domestic TV series, especially from the preschool sector, distributing titles such as Tintin, Babar, Papa Beaver’s Stories, Pomme d’Api and Nounours.