With shares for French kid specialty channels edging up each year, Bertrand Mosca, director of youth programs, says the primary challenge for France 3′s youth service is securing suitable new series, particularly brand-building exclusive programming not previously seen in France.
To maintain its market share, Mosca says France 3′s youth service relies heavily on extensive research ‘so as not to pass over shows that will work, to be attentive and open to project proposals, and to stay close to the evolution of the tastes and values of this changing youth audience, which we find is increasingly mature.’
‘With the extended production cycle, we generally have to commission series that will not be in our schedule until two or three years hence,’ he adds. ‘In other words, we have to anticipate the audience’s preferences, and as such, stay very close to their basic interests.’
Mosca says both domestic and international market surveys are employed, and France 3 has an internal research department that also commissions studies from outside sources. He notes that he has a strong incentive to stay in touch: ‘If our audience is reduced, the number of [program] hours will be cut back, as will my budget. We have to stay permanently in touch with what our audience is telling us. Children are a fascinating audience, but they evolve very quickly.’
A high percentage of the exclusive, brand-building properties on France 3 are international and European co-productions-many with Canada, France 3′s primary international co-pro partner. Both countries have established animation infrastructures and national program funding systems with a significant public component. ‘The Canadians very much appreciate the French system of financing,’ he says.
Although many of the new co-productions are based on popular literary and comic book titles, Mosca says he often prefers original creations. This year’s premiering shows-French exclusives to France 3-include Pense-Btes, MichatMichien (CatDog), La Famille Pirate, Ripley: Les Aventuriers de l’Etrange (Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!) and 20 new episodes of Les Razmoket (Rugrats). The network also has 10 non-exclusive debuts this fall, including Arthur, Oggy et les Cafards (Oggy and the Cockroaches), Patrouille 03, Bob Morane, Tom et Sheenah, Batman, la relève, Histeria, Dexter Lab, Cléo et Chico and Eerie, Indiana.
While programming is key to maintaining shares, a close second is creating a strong kid destination through on-air branding. France 3′s youth program block is hosted by Les Minikeums, a group of lively puppet characters who have their own show, and who also introduce all the other series in rotation.
The 11-member group of Minikeums have served as a fundamental branding element in reaching France 3′s target audience, the four- to 10-year-old segment. Mosca says the Minikeums ‘have been our greatest success.’
With the service’s afternoon kids block garnering a stable, leading 45% average share among four- to 10-year-olds over the last two years, additional funding has come on line and overall current youth programming is at 1,500 hours a year, or close to 25 hours a week. The service’s youth budget is at about US$30 million, with US$20 million dedicated to original co-production and US$10 million dedicated to acquisitions.
One-third of France 3′s overall network financing comes from the sale of commercial air time. In the youth blocks, each half hour is followed by four minutes of advertising. Mosca says the youth service requires commercial revenues to meet its production expenditure commitments, but private broadcasters have been lobbying to have commercial time cut on the public broadcasters for years. France 3′s response to this ongoing debate has been that it will agree to cut down on advertising, as long as additional public funding makes up the difference.
Looking to the other players in the French youth market, Mosca notes that sister public broadcaster France 2 is focused on the older 10- to 15-year-old demo, leaving private broadcaster TF1 as France 3′s main competitor.
Mosca adds that while youth specialty channels such as Disney Channel, Fox, Cartoon Network and Teletoon continue to steal market share, only one home in five in France is cabled or has satellite access. For now, with France 3′s research department estimating that the pubcaster is involved in the commissioning and production of approximately 47% of all animation in France, and close to 25% of all European-based animation, France 3 remains a strong player in the Euro broadcasting scene.