Although Canal+ Family just launched in October, the new pay-TV net is already well on its way to connecting with France’s co-viewing kids and parents. In its first month, the channel cornered a 1% share of Canal+ digital subscribers, doing its bit to help the Canal+ package net a 12.9% share in 3.5 million homes.
And the pistons driving these early gains are easy to identify. First off, the family channel’s planning and launch was managed by a ready-made and experienced kids broadcasting team that came aboard when Canal+ acquired TPS in March. Steering the ship is VP of kids programs François Deplanck, who used to oversee Piwi, Teletoon and Eureka! as head of children’s programs and channels at TPS Jeunesse.
And the second advantage Family has over the 20-odd other kidnets operating in France is Canal+’s entrenched position as the country’s pre-eminent provider of movies on TV. In a market that’s saturated with animated series for kids, Canal+ Family is tapping into its parentco’s long-standing exclusive right to run movies on Saturday nights, the goal being to become the go-to channel for weekend entertainment that the whole family can enjoy.
The net is also offering movies on France’s school-free Wednesday mornings as counter-programming to the sea of toons and sitcoms already sitting in the prime daypart on competitors’ schedules. Canal+ has a huge vault of family-friendly flicks in its programming library, including recent hits such as Madagascar, Ice Age and Pirates of the Caribbean, all of which will play out on Family’s air.
Although movies certainly dominate the daily 6 a.m. to midnight schedule, Canal+ Family breaks them up with hour-and-a-half-long blocks of cartoons for kids six to 12 in the morning, lunchtime and late afternoon. Deplanck had to shore up these toons quickly in time for the channel’s October launch, and he managed to bow with first-run series filling 60% of the total animation lineup.
Deplanck was also able to score some very short first-window deals on series that are still in production as co-pros with terrestrial broadcasters. These include Metafilm/Moonscoop’s Cosmic Robbie, which M6 plans to bow in September 2009.
Asked about the unorthodox dynamic of a broadcaster giving up an exclusive launch window on a co-production, Deplanck says its a numbers game. The 1.5 million viewers who have pay-TV in their homes is small potatoes compared to the 23 million homes with free TV, and terrestrial broadcasters aren’t threatened by Canal+ Family’s limited reach. In addition, ‘we’re flexible, and we manage to complement the financing of the production,’ says Deplanck. ‘We’re also paying much higher fees than any cable and satellite channel would pay for a series and that’s for four to 12 months, whereas a cabsat channel would tie up a series for five to 10 years.’
To fill out the animation schedule, Deplanck spent the months leading up to the launch picking up shows with a high humor quotient and, mindful of parents’ sensitivity to the stuff, just a smidgen of irreverence. He points to Iggy Arbuckle, School for Little Vampires, The Imp, Valerian and Lauraline and Being Ian as great examples of the tone he’s aiming to set, and singles out Being Ian, whose main character is a movie buff, as a good fit for Canal+ Family’s flick-heavy schedule.
The net runs a two-hour family sitcom block on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, featuring shows such as Will and Grace and My Tribe. Deplanck will also be looking for first-run and syndication opportunities to play into this programming feature.
For now, Deplanck is satisfied with the proprietary line-up in the channel’s schedule, but would like to increase it to at least 20% to build the foundation of the net’s identity. To this end, he has secured exclusive French rights to Plastics from Normaal Animation and an agreement for Comme à la Maison, another series the indie studio has in development. Deplanck is also in the midst of finalizing deals on funny and quirky projects from Vancouver, Canada’s Nerd Corps and New York-based Animation Collective.
Deplanck is eager to get his hands on fun and graphically edgy series for eight to 14s and their parents. Humor is paramount, and he’s open to all animation styles and episode lengths.