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"Digital media is our new area of diversity"

Industry Report: Market Trends

Manuel Alduy • Head of Cinema and International Development, France Télévisions

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From the development of non-linear broadcasting to the competition of US platforms, from the new media chronology to the evolution of financing: an analysis of the stakes and changes at play

Manuel Alduy • Head of Cinema and International Development, France Télévisions

After working for 22 years in the Canal+ group (including as Director of Cinema) and five years at 20th Century Fox (then Disney), Manuel Alduy is now Head of Cinema and International Development at France Télévisions, overseeing the subsidiaries France 2 Cinéma (€33.06M worth of investments in pre-buying and co-production in 2020 for 30 French feature films) and France 3 Cinéma (€17.61M for 24 films). He is attending the 31st ARP’s (Civil Society for Authors-Directors-Producers) Film Meetings organised at Touquet-Paris-Plage from 3 to 5 November, where the new relationship between cinema and broadcasters is being debated.  

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Cineuropa: How can one successfully develop cinema on France Télévisions in both linear and non-linear broadcasting, without one cannibalising the other?

Manuel Alduy: In the world of free TV channels in France, cinema remains a marginal presence in non-linear offers. Free streaming offers have only just started to appear in the last year, while they are already prominent in the UK, in Spain, in Italy or in the Netherlands, for example. So there is still a significant margin before we can begin to talk about cannibalisation. The real topic today is that the entirety of public channels are progressively moving towards the non-linear. And yet, all kinds of programs are available both on linear and non-linear broadcasting, except for cinema. The challenge, and it is almost a race against time, is to make sure that cinema finds its place in the non-linear, in order to avoid it being ghettoised in the linear. Within that framework, and since the beginning of the year, we have therefore been developing our non-linear offering. We have done so in a measured way, because we know that a free offering can have an impact on the entire cinema ecosystem. But it is crucial that France Télévisions viewers progressively develop the habit of watching cinema on our non-linear offering. 

France Télévisions is the primary free-to-air TV partner of French cinema. Does this development towards non-linear broadcasting open new perspectives?
It changes a lot of things. The first change is that digital media is our new area of diversity. We are abandoning the logic where films were attributed to slots in linear, free-to-air, national programming, and all the constraints that this entailed: the competition, the power requirement… And we are fully entering a supply-and-demand mindset: digital media allows us to suggest a menu, a cinema offer with films of all kinds, without being held hostage by the pressure of viewer figures at a specific instant, live, that came with linear broadcasting. France Télévisions began doing this in 2020 during lockdown, in a positively opportunistic fashion, in order to have a cinema offer while cinemas were closed. We have started this again this year, notably during the Cannes Film Festival, and since September, we have been putting together many themed collections, which are cycles of films chosen either by genre, by director, or about arthouse cinema more broadly. This allows us to explore editorial ideas which we couldn’t have exploited on our four linear TV channels, due to lack of space. We will no doubt be offering about 200 additional films online throughout this season. 

The second change, though it is only the beginning of this story and we are far from a satisfying conclusion, is that this has allowed us to reconsider the way we present to our audience the films we are broadcasting on linear TV, because replay offers a way to catch up. There is something rather anachronistic in cinema, compared to all the other kinds of programmes on free-to-air TV, which is that we broadcast films on which we have often invested a lot of money only once. Yet we know very well that there can be incidents of competition, since the world of free-to-air TV is very competitive, but also that there is a whole universe of non-linear broadcasting that offers many other programmes. It’s like if we had a single-barrel rifle while everyone else had moved on to machine guns! Completely anachronistic! Replay allows us to give many films a second chance. We broadcast 400 films a year on our various France Télévisions channels, but they’re not all broadcast at prime time. For example, it doesn’t matter whether “midnight cinema” is shown at midnight, at 1am or at 1:30am, as long as it is systematically accessible on demand for seven days after its original broadcast. However, this development in digital media will make more sense when France.tv becomes accessible on all the TV screens of French people, which isn’t yet entirely the case because we need to modernise the distribution agreements of our linear and non-linear channels. The digital teams of France Télévisions are working so that TV operators progressively take up these offers again. 

Your investments in cinema production are linked to those of other partners (distributors, encrypted channels, etc.), and therefore to their good economic health. What is your analysis of the current situation, in particular considering the competition from American platforms?
Regarding French cinema, I hope that we are coming out of a rather long period of weakening in terms of the financing of films. We indeed do need other partners on the films we choose to co-produce with France 2 Cinéma and France 3 Cinéma, starting of course with producers and filmmakers. We are at the dawn of a new era as the streaming platforms are starting to get involved in financing. Although we have a few clues, it is still a little too early to know how this will all work, since there will be a new media chronology. But if we can have a chronology that includes pay TV and an SVoD platform in the financing of French cinema, that is great news, because it should bring in more money, and therefore films that are better endowed in our ecosystem. On the other hand, we do not yet know what the consequences will be in terms of consumption and viewership of the films that we’ll be financing. This will need to be measured and that will take some time. Today, when we get involved on a film, we are preceded in the media chronology by Canal+ or OCS, sometimes Ciné+ as well, but we haven’t yet seen (or only very rarely, and usually in the domain of series rather than cinema) a situation where a worldwide SVoD platform broadcasts a film before we do. But we are quite confident about what will happen: from a financing angle, it is good news. Regarding viewership, we shall see.

Are you satisfied with your place in the proposed media chronology?
All of the free-to-air channels have been collectively working for months on the hypothesis that we will be able to broadcast 22 months after cinema release. The new element is having the platforms come before us. Our battle in this debate seeks, on the one hand, to protect the exclusivity of the films we co-produce and pre-buy, and on the other hand, to maintain the possibility for free-to-air channels to acquire films in order to present them to the public, because while we know when a window opens, we do not always know very well when it closes, at least when we look at what’s happening in other countries. These are our points of concern. 

Is it possible to develop both series and films? Is there a danger of cannibalisation here too, or are they compatible?
Completely. This has been one of the big positive lessons of lockdown: we saw that there was a real hunger from the audience for films to be shown on television. From the point of view of a free-to-air channel, we have exited the debate which opposes series and cinema films. Series bring a sense of something exclusive and new, which cinema does not offer to the same extent because we are not the first broadcasting window for films. But cinema offers incredible artistic diversity and stories that conclude in one evening. Maybe it was more of a question five or six years ago, where there was a boom in series. But today, even though the world of series remains very vivacious, cinema still has a place of its own for a broadcaster like France Télévisions, and we are even speeding things up by raising the number of films we are broadcasting.  

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(Translated from French)

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