Gallic outlets grapple for exclusivity

Much like their young viewers, French broadcasters just want to stand out from the crowd. But rather than pouring their hearts out into a diary or dyeing their hair a ...
September 1, 2005

Much like their young viewers, French broadcasters just want to stand out from the crowd. But rather than pouring their hearts out into a diary or dyeing their hair a rebellious shade of purple, these buyers have shifted focus from revamping their on-air branding to ramping up their negotiations for acquired product.

To establish their identities beyond station logos and quirky local hosts, France’s terrestrials and thematic cable/satellite networks are increasingly duking it out for exclusive, first-window rights on third-party acquisitions. It’s a bust-up that Pierre Belaisch, director of programming at Canal J, believes is quickly becoming the norm. When a hot show hits the market, international networks such as Jetix have the funds to buy up pan-European rights, but the domestic terrestrials can use their adult-skewing prime-time blocks as a negotiation tool. ‘They will say, ‘If we don’t get it first, we’re not going to buy anything from you, even if it’s Desperate Housewives,” Belaisch explains.

But M6 head of children’s programming Natalie Altmann says the cutthroat battle for first windows on pick-ups is largely fought amongst the cablenets, because terrestrial channels prefer to funnel their dollars into original co-productions to secure first-run rights. France 3 children’s programming head Eve Baron agrees, and says that two-thirds of her programming budget is dedicated to co-producing between 10 and 12 original series a year. But France 2′s youth department head, Sophie Gigon, who has more than a dozen original series in the hopper, concedes that exclusivity is still a major factor that comes into play when she buys new programs.

For their part, thematic cablenets are navigating this highly charged rights race by repositioning their holdings. Belaisch uses the offer of multi-pronged exposure on Canal J, Tiji and Filles TV to elicit first-window deals from distributors with programming for kids and tween girls. TPS Jeunesse’s head of youth program acquisitions, Laurie Dumas, says she’d rather secure a longer two- to three-year second window for her three channels than settle for a brief six-month first window. But she adds that it’s sometimes in her best interest to have a show launch on a terrestrial first to generate a built-in fanbase on-screen and at retail.

Canal J fills up on extra helpings

Perhaps in response to the more difficult acquisitions environment, Belaisch has chosen to re-up contracts for high-performance shows this fall, rather than introducing a large slate of new buys. A full order of 26 new half hours of Kid Paddle (Dupuis), Titeuf (Moonscoop), Code Lyoko (Moonscoop) and Martin Mystery (Marathon) will debut this month, and Belaisch is confident they’ll continue to keep Canal J’s ratings up. (According to Media Cabsat, the channel scored a 7.7 share with its four to 10 target in July 2005.)

That’s not to suggest that Canal J’s fall grid is completely devoid of new programs. Ratz (Xilam) bows this month, MGA Entertainment’s 26 x half-hour Bratz animated series will roll out in November, and Belaisch is just waiting to hear from DIC Entertainment about when Trollz will be delivered before plugging that series into his lineup.

Looking ahead, Canal J has already begun prepping for the September 2006 launch of Kangoo Junior, the prequel to Kangoo, a co-pro about basketball-playing marsupials. Belaisch plans to rerun the original 85 half hours beginning in January 2006 so his audience will be fully caught up on the story in time for Junior’s debut.

Tiji looks East…

For the first time in its five-year history, Canal J’s preschool network plans to air a Japanese series to test whether or not this region’s narrative and content approach to younger audiences will work in France. From Tokyo’s Toei Animation, Princess Silver (70 x 30 minutes) is a color-rich 2-D animated series about a young princess’s quest to find a suitable prince. It blends the sweet and gentle backdrop that’s expected in the preschool genre with Japan’s signature adventure-driven storytelling style.

On the co-pro side of the schedule, Tiji will start stripping 39 x seven minutes of Alphanim’s Cooking? A Child’s Play twice a day this month, introducing kids to simple family recipes they can make with light adult supervision. And Lucie, a 52 x five-minuter with Millimages, will hit the net this month after a first window on France 5. The short series is about a precocious little girl who questions everything. (For instance, why should you unbutton a coat when it will eventually just have to be buttoned up again?) Belaisch is also excited to launch an older series called Petit Potam (Little Hippo), which was produced in 2001 by ZDF, Eva Entertainment and Europlanet. He hopes its strong protagonist and friendship-themed stories will deliver strong ratings in its early morning slot. Speaking of ratings, Tiji averaged a 6.6 share of four- to 10-year-olds in July.

…while Filles TV looks South

With one year under its belt, tween/teen girl offering Filles TV is starting to build a steady following with its audience. The channel now corners a healthy 3.2 share of girls ages 11 to 24, which Belaisch says is ‘a really good start.’ His goal over the next year will be to break up that wide target into two sub-demos – 11- to 14-year-olds and the 15 to 24 set – and program shows that are geared to each more specifically in different dayparts.

Canada seems to be super-serving Belaisch’s need for tween dramas at the moment, with Instant Star from Alliance Atlantis joining Epitome’s Degrassi: The Next Generation and Decode’s Radio Free Roscoe in the lineup. But after a particularly drawn-out negotiations process, he has also picked up the rights to 26 x half hours of Southern Star’s Blue Water High, which is about surfing teens. He wanted the series because, unlike others in the genre, its teen cast deals with life outside of the typical high-school setting.

For Filles’ older viewers, a 120 x half-hour telenovela from Argentina’s Telefe will also make a stop on the schedule this month. ‘The characters [in Frequencia 4.0] are beautiful, and the stories are about going to university, sex, love, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It hits the right target with the right attitude,’ says Belaisch. He quickly adds, though, that there’s nothing too provocative or crude in the series, so it shouldn’t anger the parents of Filles’ younger teen audience.

Toon-heavy outlet TF1 tests live action

An established animation destination frequented by 43% of France’s four- to 10-year-olds, TF1 plans to branch out into live action this fall. The net is tapping into the genre for the first time with Nick’s Drake and Josh, which head of children’s programming Dominique Poussier expects to appeal to the upper reaches of the kids demo – and particularly young tween girls. ‘It’s a test, and if it works, we may go on to have one more live-action series for eight- to 10-year-olds,’ she says, although at least 90% of TF1′s schedule will still be comprised of animation.

Poussier is also expecting Nick’s Avatar to speak to older viewers of the male persuasion with its sophisticated graphic style and escapist story lines. The 13 x half-hour adventure toon centers around a kid who’s fated to save the world by defeating the evil Fire Nation. But given that he’s only 12, Aaong is understandably reluctant to lead the fight.

Since 50% of France’s four to 10 audience watches Dora the Explorer on TF1, there’s a good chance that spin-off Go, Diego, Go! will draw an equally impressive number of young eyeballs to the channel’s TF! morning block.

Teletoon’s 2005 refresh revolves around core kids

Having completely refreshed Teletoon’s air with a major rebranding effort last year, Dumas has honed in on finding new programming for her six to 10 target as the primary objective for 2005/2006.

Four new series will bow this month, including a co-pro with Paris-based La Boite 2 Prod called The Crazy Records. In each of this live-actioner’s seven-minute eps, three kids compete in outrageous contests, such as building the tallest tower out of potato chips, or unravelling a roll of toilet paper using only their feet. Dumas says the program achieves two crucial goals because it increases viewer interaction and fills out the channel’s local content portfolio. Contestants are chosen exclusively from France, and kids watching at home will be encouraged by the show’s hosts to put their own record-breaking chops to work. The other three additions are all TF1 co-pros that have already aired on the terrestrial net – Pet Alien (Taffy Entertainment), Zoe Kezako (Sparkling) and Billy and Buddy (Dargaud) – and they’ll join the Teletoon sked in December.

Dumas also plans to satisfy the numerous requests she receives from Teletoon’s viewers for new eps of Winx Club (Rainbow) by scheduling season three this month. She says the net clued into the avidness of the show’s fans when it received hundreds of entries (many more than anticipated) for a Winx Club contest last year.

Piwi also tests preschool anime

Like Tiji, Teletoon’s preschool cable channel Piwi is rolling out its first Asian pick-up this season with Tao Shu from Japan’s Peach Bloom and Evergreen. The show’s appeal hinges on the balance it achieves between a unique glimpse at Asian culture and universally accessible stories based on the day-to-day discoveries and adventures of two preschool siblings. In each 13-minute episode, Tao Shu uses his imagination and the help of his little sister to fight against make-believe enemies in the family’s backyard.

Piwi also plans to address the obesity issue with a second season of Vitaminix from Spain’s Icon Animation. Although the show looks at food and health in general, Dumas says childhood obesity is fast becoming a problem in France, and tackling it on-air is a programming goal of almost every kids channel in the region.

France 3′s co-pro strategy still going strong

Promoting a healthier lifestyle to kids was certainly behind France 3′s acquisition of LazyTown, a zany 25 x half-hour series from Iceland that encourages preschoolers to get off the couch and into action. Programming director Eve Baron believes the show will work well in her France Truc Saturday morning block (which targets kids six to 10 with action-comedy programming) because it isn’t preachy, but instead teaches kids about exercise in a fun way.

Joining LazyTown in the block is Robot Boy, a co-pro with Cartoon Network and Alphanim about a young machine who wants to be human; and Scooby Gang, a 42 x 70-minute format from Warner Bros. Television that features a local female host interacting with TV’s most famous animated sleuths. As part of a broader property strategy for the show, Baron says F3 will later launch a CD of songs sung by the host in hopes of turning her into a French pop celebrity.

School-free Wednesdays are just as important as weekends to kids TV in France, and Baron plans to build more co-viewing into this prime broadcast space by pairing her most promising girl-appealing toons – 26 x half hours of 4Kids’ Mew Mew and the second season of Winx Club – with established boys action hits Titeuf and Code Lyoko.

But co-pros still do most of the legwork at France 3. In fact, two-thirds of the network’s budget is earmarked for original programming, and this figure is on track to increase by 10% over the next six years. Baron says she’d like to add more comedy series to her co-production lineup, especially those that target four- to 10-year-olds with themes of friendship and silliness.

France 2 goes long on live-action dramas

France 2 is also ramping up its co-production output to secure dedicated viewers in the upper ranges of the youth demographic. On average, the terrestrial net attracts a quarter of France’s 11 to 14 set, as well as 40% of resident 15- to 24-year-olds who love teen dramas and comedies. Right now, the network has 12 new live-action series in the scriptwriting phase that could be greenlit for production in the next few years.

But Gigon’s main pet project this year is co-pro Skyland, and she’s just waiting for a delivery update before she locks it into the schedule. The show is important to her because of its strong message about how an isolated hero can overcome extreme mental and physical challenges to achieve the seemingly impossible.

In the meantime, about 80% of the network’s schedule will be dedicated to live-action series this year, and the fall lineup is highlighted by a second season of Vice Versa (about a boy who can transform himself into a girl at will) and a third season of 15 Love, a co-production with Canada’s YTV about a camp for teen tennis pro wannabes. And Gigon is still on the lookout for more teen-skewing programming that isn’t weighed down by overly heavy subject matter.

M6 harnesses the power of kid heroes

Regular kids living double lives as superheroes seem to be poised to take over M6′s grid this month, starting with a 2-D animated co-pro called Invisible Man with Moonscoop and BRB. The 26 x half-hour toon retells the classic George Wells story, but its protagonist is a chemistry-loving high-school student. When a freak lab accident renders him invisible, he dons latex masks to look like a normal kid during the day. But by night, he uses his newfound invisibility as a cloak and fights crime. Altmann is convinced the theme will resonate with kids, who ‘all want to be more than who they are.’

The star of Nick’s Danny Phantom struggles with this same problem. As a teen ghost trying to fit in at school and deal with family life, Danny is a very sympathetic and humorous hero. And Altmann plans to run the 20 x half-hour series alongside two veteran double-life shows with the same sense of humor – Martin Mystery and Atomic Betty.

M6′s Sunday morning block for four- to 10-year-olds will also get made over this season with a new female host, and Altmann says the wraparounds will be lengthened to reinforce the M6 brand with viewers.

Disney sticks with tried-and-true gameplan

Aiming to increase its 9.7% share of kids ages four to 14, Disney is going with a familiar strategy. The channel plans to continue dipping deeply into its parentco’s pool of original programs to build exclusivity into its schedule, as well as acquiring locally produced series to add a regional flavor.

On Disney Channel, new Mouse House shows rolling out before year’s end include The Suite Life of Zack & Cody (about twins who use their mother’s workplace as their personal playground) and The Buzz on Maggie (the adventures of a teenage fly). And looking ahead a bit, the Wonderful World of Disney block will likely expand on the weekends to run more movies and animated Disney classics for a broader family audience.

Acquisitions and prebuys set to debut in the fall include The Gnoufs (Method Films/France 3) on Toon Disney, The Bellflower Bunnies (Eurovisual) and LazyTown. Programming director Julien Borde is also looking forward to peppering the sked with local fare including Futurikon/M6 series Ugly Duckling and Me, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale.

At MIPCOM, Borde will be after French and European animated comedies designed to appeal to kids from the higher end of preschool up to age 14. He’s willing to consider second windows after terrestrials, but says he still expects first-window status on prebuys.

Jetix France builds audience connection on-air

Viewer interaction is still a key goal this year at French cablenet Jetix. And to build a longer-lasting relationship between kids and Totally Spies!, the toon’s stars will begin introducing upcoming programs next month each morning from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Another stunt in November will let viewers send in text and e-mail messages giving kudos or dedicating shows to their friends. As we all know, kids love to see their names on TV, so it’s anticipated that the audience will tune in more often and stick around longer waiting for their shout-outs to come up on-screen.

The net is also ramping up for the launch of A.T.O.M. (Alpha Teens on Machines), its 26 x half-hour co-pro with Paris-based SIP Animation.

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